The work of ESPN’s Wright Thompson is nearly impossible to categorize or define. He’s covered a wide variety of subjects throughout his career, most recently writing about Michael Jordan and COVID-19’s impact on Italian soccer, and investigating the deaths of dozens of Santa Anita racehorses for a new ESPN podcast series.

However, one prevalent theme in Thompson’s work has been the exploration of Southern culture, whether it’s the Kentucky Derby, the Auburn-Alabama rivalry and figures such as Harvey Updyke, and life along the Mississippi Delta in a piece for National Geographic.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Thompson wanted to further explore the history and culture of the South through the story of Julian Proctor “Pappy” Van Winkle and his family’s whiskey business that began with Old Fitzgerald in 1935 and the development of other acclaimed and highly sought bourbons such as Old Rip Van Winkle, Van Winkle Special Reserve, and Pappy Van Winkle 23.

Thompson’s new book on the Van Winkle family and its whiskey business, Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last, is being released this week (Nov. 10). This past weekend, CBS Sunday Morning profiled Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and also spoke to Thompson as part of the feature.

“It’s barely a book about bourbon,” Thompson told CBS’ Lee Cowan. “It’s about what we owe our families and how we can pass the best of them along.”

A key part of the Van Winkle story is the decision by Julian Van Winkle Jr. to sell the distillery in 1972 as bourbon became less popular. Selling the distillery was something Van Winkle Jr. never came to terms with and when Julian III revived the Old Rip Van Winkle brand, Thompson wrote that it was “a chance to soothe the pain his father felt when he lost what Pappy had built.”

It will certainly be easier to read about Pappy Van Winkle than to drink some. The bourbon is now a phenomenon. People line up for the opportunity to buy a bottle. The 23-year-old Pappy sells for $3000 or higher online.

You might have a better chance to get a bottle by buying a ticket for Thompson’s virtual event on Nov. 12 to promote Pappyland through Iowa City’s famed Prairie Lights Bookstore. A ticket will enter you in a raffle for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Three bottles will be given away in the raffle. Ticket buyers will also receive a copy of the book.

“This is a very weird book,” Thompson told The Daily Iowan. “It’s a genre-bending, weird literary experiment… At some point, I realized I didn’t need to write the book. I needed to write a book about reporting the book.”

Pappyland is available at booksellers Nov. 10.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.