February 17, 2013

Author Q & A: Go ahead wine

In 'Wine Maniacs,' Layne Witherell pulls 30 years of advice and adventures out of the many hats he's worn in the industry.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Layne Witherell

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• Longfellow Books, One Monument Way, Portland, 7 p.m. March 7; 772-4045

• Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, noon, May 10; 871-1700

• Graves Memorial Library, 18 Maine St., Kennebunkport, 2 p.m. May 19; 967-2778

Portland resident Layne Witherell has spent 30 years in the wine business, and has lots of stories to tell.

Witherell, who says he is "67 years old going on 25," spent the last five years writing a book about his adventures buying, selling and drinking wine all over the country.

"Wine Maniacs: Life in the Wine Biz" ($14.95) is self-published, but Witherell will be giving readings and signing books at several locations around Maine during the next few months, including the Portland Public Library. The book is available at Longfellow Books in Portland and Nonesuch Books in South Portland.

Witherell begins with life in California in the 1970s and walks the reader through his time in Oregon, Montana and Virginia. Over the years, he has held numerous positions in the wine industry, including sales manager at Oak Knoll Winery in Oregon. In the 1980s, he owned his own company and went to France as an exporter. He's also been a marketing director, a CEO and a wine competition judge.

When he lived in Virginia, Witherell wrote a wine column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and taught a wine education program at the University of Virginia.

Witherell and his wife, Judy, enjoy the food scene in Portland, and he says the city reminds him of Portland, Ore., before it really took off. "We're all over the restaurant scene here," he said. "I love it. I was in the other Portland in the early '80s. This is deja vu."

Witherell stays away from local wine tastings, however, because he likes to research wines himself.

"I've owned 1,000 wine books in my life, and I've read pretty much most of them," he said. "I don't have a wine cellar. I guess I move too much to have a wine cellar. But I like to do my own homework when it comes to wine. As you'll see from my book, I don't like bloggers, and I don't like stuff from the Internet. It's uninformed."

"Wine Maniacs" is part storytelling, part food-and-wine discussion, part wine education. Witherell sat down recently for a chat about the book and gave some helpful tips for people who long to be oenophiles.


Q: I thought one of the best paragraphs in your book was the last one, where you hand out advice to people who want to learn about wine. Can you share a few of those suggestions?

A: Just write down everything that you taste or take a picture of that label, so that way you have a memory of what you had. I ran a store for years and years, and (customers) walk in and go, "This was the best wine I ever had."

"Well, what was it?"

"'Well, I don't know."

"If it's the best wine you've ever had, how come you don't know what it is?" (Laughs.)

Always record what you had, and with the phones today, that is a godsend. You can walk into any store and say, "This is what I had." And then you'll be able to lead yourself to other venues and find other wines.

I like not to try the same wine twice. We have wine with every meal, and if you get stuck in that "Oh, I love this wine," then you're going to be in a rut. That's why you need to go to various places, try various wines, record them, write them down. Be an adventurer.


Q: There are a lot of wine dinners in the Portland area, and some of them are rather pricey. I think a lot of people expect that the wines are going to be good at a wine dinner, but that's not always the case. What are some things people can do to keep from overpaying for mediocre wines?

(Continued on page 2)

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