Back before there was Google, us wine lovers used to research things by reading books. And, if you happened to be a lover of Rhône wines living sometime before 1987, there really wasn’t a book that addressed your particular passion. It was in 1987 that a little-known educator by the name of Robert Mayberry published a book entitled, “Wines of the Rhône Valley: A Guide to Origins”. What it lacked in graphic appeal (really…who thought a Pepto-Bismol pink dust jacket would ignite sales?) it more than made up for in content.
Mayberry was the first wine writer to give producers in Rhône Valley a spotlight. He was encyclopedic in his tracking down details on most of the important (and not so) producers, including acreage, production techniques and tasting notes. His passion for the region was obvious even if you gave his book only a cursory glance, and his efforts won him the respect and affection from Rhône winemakers, including a knighthood from the French Ministry of Agriculture. Even upon its release the book was all but impossible to find. I had the good pleasure of meeting Professor Mayberry a few times, the last being, I believe, 1998 or 99. I treasure my copy of his book, and had Robert sign it the first time I met him.
Within a few short years of his book’s release, things began to heat up for Rhône wines (that I had a hand in making that happen remains a highlight of my career). I always wondered why Robert never published an updated edition of his book…and then I learned that he was suffering from MS, making it difficult (and, later in life, all but impossible) to transfer his notes to the written page.
Sadly, a new edition of Wines of the Rhône Valley will never be. On December 8th, Robert Mayberry passed away at the age of 79. Even if you never read the book, you should raise a glass tonight in his honor. And it better be a Rhône!