Peter is not merely an all-round bookseller and cataloguer,
but writes in a wide variety of places (like The Telegraph and Spectator) on topics about (particularly) wine, but also chocolate, women's lingerie, business class air carriers, and travel. He seems to have a nice life.
Included here is a small selection of his pieces from the past couple of years, which are uniformly witty and engaging. (Please bear in mind that prices and availability were relevant at the time of publication).
Peter Grogan weighs up the worth of rare books
I’ve worked in the rare book trade for far too long to expect the prices of first editions to make any sense to the uninitiated. It surprises me not one jot that people will pay £20,000 for a first of Casino Royale in its all-important dustwrapper while we struggle to shift Keats’s Endymion for the same figure minus its all-important final zero.
Why do prices for the first Harry Potter book — which rival those for the first Bond — soar like a quidditch champ while those for many classics palely loiter? Some connection with Planet Earth can be established when we consider that J.K. Rowling’s first venture into print appeared in a miserly edition of 500 copies, many of which were distributed to libraries (with the various stamps infecting such copies the bibliophilic equivalent of rabies).
Peter Grogan describes how forged inscriptions tempt book collectors to sign away huge amounts of money
The 'gentleman' who sidled into the rare books shop where I work came to offer a first edition of Under Milk Wood signed by Dylan Thomas. He seemed a little furtive - and with good reason. Thomas never lived to see his book in print. The '19 whiskies' which took him - gently or otherwise - into that good night had done so several months before the work was ever published.
Forgery has been around in the rare book trade for centuries and not all has been done at the level of incompetence of the - admittedly small - category of posthumous authorial inscriptions. A couple of hundred years ago the young William Henry Ireland should have put down his quill after knocking off a document signed by the Bard as a gift for his Shakespeare-obsessed father. But it seems a feature of the forging mind - like the gambling one - not to know when to stop. A clutch of love letters to Anne Hathaway and the entire manuscript of King Lear followed before Ireland's ambition completely o'erleapt itself with the appearance of an 'undiscovered' play, Vortigern and Rowena.
Peter Grogan investigates a grape variety with a split personality.
When the hammer went down at Sotheby's last year for a collection of 70 consecutive vintages of Château d'Yquem, the world's greatest sweet wine, the price set a record for a single lot in a UK wine auction of nearly £400,000. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, more people have probably heard of Yquem than of sémillon, the grape variety it's primarily made from. But those who are familiar with sémillon are on to a good thing, because in addition to making one of the world's most famous wines it produces some of the best value whites around.
Sémillon doesn't get the attention that sauvignon blanc (which it is often blended with) and chardonnay enjoy but it's a versatile grape that isn't just restricted to sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Whether it's everyday bottles from Entre-Deux-Mers in the £4-7 range, or Sunday-best wines from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, Yquem's Bordeaux neighbours deserve a collective medal for improving their dry whites dramatically over the past five years.
Peter Grogan on the winemaking success of a climate-challenging corner of the US
You have to hand it to whoever first looked across the steppe-like wilderness that is the heartland of Washington State on the Pacific north-west coast of the US and, feeling the winter wind whip straight through him, thought: "Mmm, nice place for a vineyard." That was nearly 200 years ago and history does not record whether the pioneering soul knew that in summer the place becomes a burning dust bowl (the US army uses it for desert training).
There are now vineyards in every American state (and that includes Alaska and Hawaii) but so large is the shadow cast by California's mighty industry that few of them register on most UK wine drinkers' radar. Washington, whose output is about two thirds that of New Zealand, is the second biggest producer, followed by New York State and then Ohio.
Most of Washington's vineyards are at roughly the same latitude as those of Burgundy (around 47° North) and this is part of their appeal. Whatever the grape variety, many of the best wines in the world come from the most northerly (in our hemisphere) viticultural outposts where the grapes can just about stagger to full ripeness. The reason can be summed up in one word: freshness. Cooler temperatures make for fresher, brighter flavours in wine.
"Yes, it's all about freshness," says Gary Werner, an Ohian who, after 10 years writing about wine in the UK, has just headed off to Seattle to work for the Washington Wine Commission, which promotes the state's wines both in the US and abroad. "It played a big role in my taking this job,'' he says. "And it's the basis for my belief in the region's potential."