Don't expect a book full of photographs of wine glasses in Riedel. This book tells the story of the Riedel family's glass business on the occasion of the company's 250th anniversary.
Although known today as the revolutionary Austrian producer of varietal-specific wine glasses that are now widely imitated, the Riedel family had its start in the glass business in a Bohemian forest. Over the centuries, the family has been a leader in new technology, adapting to the market and thriving through war, displacement and the redrawing of the map of Central Europe. (Walter Riedel, for example, designed enormous radar lenses during World War II and was rewarded for this with a postwar career as a captive engineer for the Russians.)
Riedel is not primarily about wine glasses (a subject the book covers in about 30 pages), but as a history of the indisputable quality leader in the field, it could hardly be better. Sure, there are awkward translations, European quotation marks and "mirror mirror on the wall" moments like this description of a mentally infirm Walter released back into society: "But Walter Riedel was too much of a Riedel to simply retire."
Books such as these are called vanity projects because they tend to cast an uncritical, even flattering eye on their subjects, who most likely paid for the production. Often the books are purely promotional, like a greatest hits record pressed only to be handed out to friends and family. But the writers of such books often have unprecedented access to company or family archives and personal and corporate memory—access for which no independent reporter can hope.
In this case, access wins out over vanity. The story reads like an epic novel—or maybe a miniseries—of a central European family through the centuries. It has everything but sex: feast, famine, war, fortunes won and lost, men escaping captors by jumping off trains.
And as of the 2004 release of the O series and the purchase of Spiegelau, the Riedels continue to innovate and dominate. I have a feeling volume two will be along in another hundred years or so. But why wait?
Riedel, written by Stefan Esser and translated by Richard Manson and Gordon H. Broxton-Price (Droemer Verlag; 210 pages; $29.90)
To order, contact Riedel USA at (732) 346-8960.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions