The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, by benjamin wallace.
before i get to this book, let me preface with this: i like to read widely. i have found, as i’ve intentionally read more widely in the past few years, a couple things:
1. i’m amazed at how reading a book about a subject i know little about can spark thinking in my everyday life. i suppose it’s a bit of the ‘intersections of fields of study’ that the author of the medici effect is talking about, as the true generator of new ideas.
2. i don’t want to exaggerate this, or somehow imply that i am now a master of pattern recognition because i read the occasional book outside my normal sphere of subjects and interests; but, i have noticed that reading more widely has helped me with pattern recognition. in other words, i feel like my ability to see systemic connections and patterns (of human behavior, of cultural response, of market, of personal and organizational options and choices) has increased, at least a little.
that’s why this book caught my eye, to some extent, in the new books section of borders recently. i’m not a rare and collectible wine afficianado. i really don’t know that much about wine. i know that i like most reds (with pinot noir being my current favorite, along with argentine malbec), i like chardonnay, and i don’t like sauvignon blanc, white zin, or other girly whites. i can tell the difference between two-buck-chuck and a decent $10 – $20 bottle. but i can’t tell the difference between a $30 bottle and a $50 bottle. once, a friend had been given a $300 bottle of wine as a gift, and he shared it with me. other than that, i’ve not tasted much of the really pricey stuff.
but this book was about much more than bottles of wine that sell for $20,000 – $100,000 (or more). it’s about human behavior. and it’s about the birth, rise, corruption, and demise, of a small and unique passion (in this case, collecting — and occasionally tasting — rare old wines). the bottle in the subtitle is (or was) the most expensive bottle ever sold, at more than $150,000. part of its allure was its connection to thomas jefferson. for twenty years, this bottle, and a couple dozen others like it, were surrounded with suspicion as to their authenticity. and, after a couple decades, they’ve been outed as fakes. this was one factor (of many) that rotted the collectible wine world from the inside out (the fake-creator turned out to be one of the rare wine world’s leading sellers).
this rise and fall (starting in the early 60s and lasting, roughly, into the last decade) reminded me of the natural cycle of human organizations that i blogged about recently.
it reminded of how a surprising conflict over something we were all passionate about became the cancer that destroyed the best small group i was ever a part of.
it made me think about the differences between american culture and others (when american wine collectors got on board with the collectible wine craze, it spiraled out of control and collapsed in on itself).
it made me think about affinity networks and their role in our lives (and their role in my life, and how sustaining they are to me).
it made me think about the love of money.
it made me think about the differences between appreciating a good thing, and needing to possess that thing.
it made me think about the current state of youth ministry, and of the emerging church (and emergent village, in particular), and of both churches i am part of (the big seeker church and the grass-roots home church), and the internet, and cigars, and a bunch of other stuff.
so, yeah, i enjoyed reading this really well-researched and well-written book – not because i now know more about wine than i did a few weeks ago, but because it provided a hundred rabbit trails of thought.