Bestselling book ‘The Wine Bible’ is updated: What’s changed in 14 years?

Karen MacNeil updates her bestselling book "The Wine Bible" 10 years after its publication.

Karen MacNeil updates her bestselling book “The Wine Bible” 10 years after its publication.

(Karen MacNeil)

It took Karen MacNeil 10 years to write “The Wine Bible,” her bestselling book. Published in 2001, it has sold 750,000 copies, astonishing for a wine book. On Oct. 13, the second edition — five years in the research and writing — arrives on bookstore shelves.

The new book is much more than an update. Since 2001, the world wine scene has changed so much that MacNeil has rewritten 80% of the book. The manuscript ran to 5,000 pages, which translates to about 1,200 pages for the finished book.

The circumstances as she writes it are very different, too. In 1991, when MacNeil started researching the first edition, she was not the star that she is today: a highly respected wine educator and chairman emeritus of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. She is also a James Beard Outstanding Wine and Spirits professional and was the host of the PBS show “Wine, Food, and Friends with Karen MacNeil.”

After the first book was published, a lawyer friend of hers calculated that she made six cents an hour in the 10 years it took her to research it.


“Every fact was checked by U.S. postal mail,” she says, “and in the latter part of the 10 years by the incredible invention of the fax machine.” MacNeil does not rely on secondary sources. “I do all primary research, so I don’t copy something from Jancis Robinson or Steven Spurrier or anyone else.”

She says trying to find out a simple thing — such as the amount of sugar in Hungarian Tokaj — can take three weeks of phone calls and emails to find the right person and to really understand whether she has the correct fact.

“Every chapter becomes like an old-style photograph,” says MacNeil. “I have easily 45 versions of the chapter on Bordeaux. It starts out basic, then gets richer and fuller, richer and fuller until it’s done.”

“The Wine Bible” is loved because it’s written by a single passionate voice. “What the Internet doesn’t tell you is why things matter. That’s what’s fascinating to anyone who loves wine,” says MacNeil.

Slovenia and Mexico were not included in the first edition. She’s added sections on Peru and Uruguay and expanded coverage of traditional areas such as Spain. Sections on New Zealand and Sicily are greatly expanded. “In the last 15 years, the wine industry has developed at warp speed on every continent,” says MacNeil. “The big growth areas for wine consumption are China, Russia, and the U.S. of course.”

The second edition of “The Wine Bible” will be published as an ebook, too, and it will be published in many more languages.

“The Wine Bible,” (Workman Publishing, October 2015, $24.95).

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