Simon J Woolf launches ‘world’s first’ book on orange wine

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

25 September 2017

Natural wine expert Simon J Woolf is launching what he believes to be the world’s first book exclusively dedicated to orange wine.

Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine uncovers the 'rags to riches' story of the world's oldest wine style.

The book, whose publication is being funded via a Kickstarter campaign, details orange wine’s decline after two world wars and its extraordinary rebirth in the late 1990s thanks to pioneers like Joško Gravner and the late Stanko Radikon. The book includes exclusive interviews with both winemakers.

Amber Revolution is the result of more than four years of research, covering post-war Friuli and neighbouring Slovenia, joining the dots to Georgia’s 8,000-year-old traditional wine culture, which is associated with the origin of orange wine. The 250-page book profiles 180 top orange wine producers, and is illustrated with more than 100 images from photographer Ryan Opaz.

Woolf told Imbibe that, although the ‘amber revolution’ in the UK may still be a niche, it's growing fast.

'It's pretty incredible to compare the range of orange wines on sale in the on and off-trade now, versus five years ago,' he said.

There's a growing fanbase, and a growing number of producers who are getting behind the style. People are starting to realise that there's as much variety and versatility in the orange wine category as there is in red or white wines.'

In December last year Woolf raised eyebrows in the wine trade when he challenged Hugh Johnson OBE to test his prejudices against orange wine at a specially organised orange wine tasting at 67 Pall Mall.

Woolf had taken issue with a comment from Johnson in a Washington Post interview in October 2016 saying that 'orange wines are a sideshow and a waste of time'.

Responding on his Morning Claret website, Woolf countered that such comments displayed 'a worrying lack not only of winemaking history, but also of what drives the wine industry in the 21st century'.

Woolf subsequently invited Johnson to attend a private tasting of eight orange wines at 67 Pall Mall in December last year. Johnson accepted. Woolf reported that the tasting led to some 'positive discourse' and that, though Johnson did not enjoy all the wines, he was impressed by two: a 2007 Friuli wine from Gravner and an Austrian welchsriesling from the Renna Sistas.

Johnson has since read Woolf’s book and has given it his imprimatur, describing Amber Revolution as 'timely and very readable'.

Amber Revolution can be pre-ordered via from 21 September and will be published by Morning Claret Publications in summer 2018, in a hardcover illustrated edition. Pre-orders will be available from September 21 2017 at a discounted price.

What is orange wine?

Orange or amber wines are white wines made which undergo extended skin maceration, which contributes to their distinctive colour, texture and flavour profile. In bygone times, all grapes were fermented the same way, whether red or white, with the result that tannins, flavour compounds and pigment were extracted from the grape during maceration, which might last weeks or even months. The phenolic compounds extracted during maceration also help to preserve the wine.

This pre-industrial method of winemaking has been maintained as a continuous tradition in Eurasia, especially present-day Georgia, where clay vessels known as qvevri are used and grape juice is fermented and aged with skin, pips and stems often for many months, and sometimes more than a year.

Slovenia also has a long history of orange winemaking, while over the border in Italy, Friuli has come to be associated with a revival of this method of winemaking thanks to producers such as Joško Gravner and Stanko Radikon. Since Gravner made his first orange wine in 1997, the method has been adopted by winemakers across the world, from Italy to France, Spain, Austria, the US, Australia and beyond.

Because of its minimal intervention methods, orange winemaking is often associated with the natural wine movement. Indeed, the late Stanko Radikon once said that a proper orange wine must be fermented with wild yeasts and without temperature control. Although it has these characteristics in common with natural wine, they are not a prerequisite for orange wines.

For more info, check out Donald Edwards' piece on orange wine.


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