Lincoln Russell’s Love Letter to Burgundy
Lincoln Russell is a baby boomer with a school-boy crush. The Stockbridge photographer has crafted a sumptuous Valentine to the object of his affection, a coffee-table book called Adventures in Burgundy (Pinot Press; $50). He has visited France twenty times in the past three years to take photographs, but it’s been a heartbreaking relationship. “It’s a dubious accomplishment to develop a taste for wines that are not accessible,” says Russell, explaining how he was treated by some of the region’s leading vintners to rare and super-expensive bottles. “In the right circumstances wine can bring tears to your eyes,” he says, smiling broadly. “These nectars bring so much joy to your mouth, but it’s all contextual. You have to have the right food and setting. Only the Japanese care as much as the French do about what they put in their mouths.”
Adventures in Burgundy is an insider’s look at the ten families and vineyards that produce some of the world’s grandest wines. Russell, who does not even speak French, gained access by earning his hosts’ trust with his enthusiasm, patience, and humility. “I was so guileless—I had no idea who was their Beethoven and who was their Tchaikovsky,” says Russell, who often makes musical analogies (and published Seiji: An Intimate Portrait of Seiji Ozawa, which chronicled the life of the longtime Boston Symphony Orchestra musical director.) “They really delighted in the crazy American.”
He delighted in discovering his latent Francophila. “There is a wonderful relationship with the U.S. and France that goes back to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and continues with Josephine Baker, Jerry Lewis and now me,” he says. Russell’s book has only a few pages of text, because he believes in the power of pictures to tell a story and knows the limitations of words. “There’s nothing that sounds more like bullshit than wine talk if you don’t know what someone is talking about,” he says.
He thinks that anyone who loves our rural region is predisposed to appreciate the glories of Burgundy. He believes that living in the Berkshires made him acutely sensitive and sympathetic to the agricultural way of life. “I also live in a place with animals in the woods and sophisticated people that is three hours from one of the greatest cities on the planet,” he says. Russell is heading to France next week for a series of book parties, and he will be signing copies at The Book Shop in Lenox on November 29. “And then I am taking a road trip to California wine country with a Chevy Suburban full of books to sell,” he says. After charming the French winemakers, winning over the Californians should be easy.