For last-minute gift ideas or for anyone who likes wine, it's hard to top A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery ($26, Hachette), a book written by Dallas power couple Kathryn and Craig Hall.
In the book, which made the New York Times bestseller list when it was released in the fall, the couple tells the story of their journey through the world of California wine, from the founding of their winery and vineyard to scaling the heights of critical acclaim. Two of their vintages — 2010's Hall Exzellenz Red Wine and the 2013 Hall Rainin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon — scored 100 points from Robert Parker, the legendary Wine Advocate critic.
North Texans know Craig Hall as the developer who got the jump on Frisco before it became the juggernaut it is today. Kathryn Hall is the lawyer who served as Ambassador to Austria under President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The duo has the means to do anything with their time, but chose a pursuit where they must contend with uncontrollable forces like weather and local politics, entailing lots of hard work with no quick or easy payoff.
The book has a unique structure that makes it a highly accessible read. It's written mostly from an "us" perspective, but with detours and explanations penned in their individual voices. You feel like you're having a conversation with the couple, as one, then the other talks.
They share sweet anecdotes about their one-of-a-kind love story, and offer an insider's peek into the rarefied realm of Napa Valley, but with a modesty and salt-of-the-earth ethic that's very likable.
"We tried to include some of the 'geeky' wine stuff as well as the personalities," Kathryn says. "But even if you're not a wine drinker, I think the industry itself is a fascinating area because it's in the luxury realm, and it's always changing."
Kathryn grew up around winemaking. Her family owned a vineyard in Mendocino, and her father was a grape grower. But she likes the people aspect of making and selling wine.
"The selling of the wine energizes me," she says. "It's fun to talk about, and just so fun to see people enjoy themselves. When you do a wine dinner with four to five wines, things start out quiet, and then by the fourth course, people are having such a good time. It's fun to watch how wine helps liven up a room."
Their current lineup includes Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and two Cabernets. The Sauvignon Blanc is available for under $25, while the most expensive Cabernet, the Kathryn Hall, is priced from $125 to $150, depending on vendor. All of their wines are highly rated.
"In 2011, we had rain that came right before harvest, which is exactly when you do not want to have rain," Kathryn says. "Most winemakers that year harvested early, to beat the rain. But we decided to hang through that season and hope for sun.
"We risked losing that whole crop of Cabernet grapes, but we got lucky. After the rain, we got a good hit of sun. So while most critics criticized 2011 Napa Cabernet for being too 'green,' we got some of our best scores that year."
These days, even on the lower price spectrum, it's become almost difficult to get a bad bottle of wine. Technology has made it easier, whether it's equipment to sort grapes or to control the temperature while the wine ages. "What has not changed is the importance of just caring about what you do," Kathryn says.