The Garden of the World
The Garden of the World depicts a full vineyard year, from bud break and bloom in the spring, through ripening in the summer, to the harvest and crush in fall. While it tells a story of ambition and consequences very representative of the West, it also illustrates the fascinating world of grape growing and winemaking.
I came upon the anecdote that inspired The Garden of the World while doing research for my first novel, The Blossom Festival. The year was 1928, and Prohibition was in effect, and vineyards were going bankrupt or barely hanging on by selling sacramental wine or grapes for the home winemaking market. Then, a robbery was reported at the vineyard of Paul Masson, in the hills above Saratoga, the town where my mother grew up. The initial report stated that $400,000 worth of wine was stolen, a fabulous sum in the twenties. The robbery was never solved, and some conjectured that Paul Masson had arranged to have himself robbed, in order to move some product out of his cellars. The best account of the actual robbery is probably in Vineyards in the Sky, by Eleanor Ray.
The story gave me a good excuse to spend time learning about grape growing and winemaking in California, which have long been interests of mine. I spent time in the Napa Valley Wine Library in St. Helena, and the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg, reading old books about viticulture by Eunice Frona Wait, Agoston Haraszthy, Edward J. Wickson, and others. I read oral histories about winemaking in the California History Center at De Anza College. And I talked with Dave Muret, then with Mirassou Winery, about the history of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley.
I think the book contains a good account of how wine was made in the early half of the twentieth century. The story begins with tearing out vines stricken with phylloxera and replanting with resistant rootstock in 1907, and it ends with grafting over old vines in the spring of 1929. There are scenes of measuring sugars in the field, spreading sulfur on a foggy morning to keep away rot, and picking and crushing grapes into barrels for fermentation. Whenever I found an odd or striking fact, I tried to include it. For instance, to remove the cloudiness from unfinished wine, bentonite clay is frequently added. However, in the old days, it was known that any kind of pure protein would gather particles to itself and clarify the wine, and so egg whites or even bull’s blood were sometimes added. I think anyone who loves wine will enjoy learning more about the history of winemaking through this book.
The novel I ended up writing is only loosely based on the story of Paul Masson, though it does end with a vineyard being robbed. Still, while reading about Masson, Haraszthy, Niebaum, and other early winemakers in California, I began to see them as representative figures of the West. They were pioneers, founders, the kind of men who could build something large and leave damage in their wake. There’s a certain ruthlessness in their ambition – it’s not completely admirable, though it’s not to be completely condemned either – and the damage they cause has consequences that they might not have foreseen when they began.
I’ve made available the story of Sophia going to visit her mother in the tuberculosis sanitarium on e-readers. I decided not to include this story in the final draft of the novel because it was a distraction from the main arc of narrative, but if you would like to read Sophia’s backstory, it is available here.
Another novel by Lawrence Coates so magical, aching and complete that once begun I could not turn away.—Robert Olmstead
Lawrence Coates knows California’s Santa Clara Valley, its history and the history of its once-great wine industry, and it permeates every page of his new novel. In The Garden of the World he has created a complex and beautiful story grounded in the reality of the valley’s vinuous past and of the people who helped make this land once “The Valley of Heart’s Delight."—Charles Sullivan
Coates ... is part of the literary thrust to recapture and reimagine lost worlds, and we as readers are the better for it. [He] is a unique and significant presence.—W. Jack Hicks