On Tuesday, December 9, I conducted an hour-long interview of Jon Bonné in front of a live audience for the Commonwealth Club. Bonné is the Wine Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, a two-time James Beard Award winner and the author of The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.
Our conversation covered how he sees his role as a wine critic, what he looks for in wines he reviews, current trends in styles and varietals, and much more. I’ve called out a few interesting tidbits below to set the scene. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here:(http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/archive/podcast/tasting-new-california-wines-jon-bonné
I began the interview with a fundamental question. How does Jon Bonné view the role of a wine critic? His response, excerpted here, not only puts his own writing in context, but highlights the importance of context and critical thought beyond scores in wine writing.
Jon Bonné: “…If you’re going to write about wine you have to be a critic. …You have to figure out how to shine a light not simply on what you like and what you don’t, but also the larger patterns you see around you and the ways in which… wine is contributing to the larger culture. … More often than not, that’s what gets lost with wine criticism. Modern wine criticism has really been built up on this system of just assigning scores and walking on. …[It] doesn’t really get you to questions of culture, questions of farming, questions of sustainability. To me, if you’re going to be really diligent and serious as a critic, that’s what you have to do.”
Fred Swan: “How much do you consider fitness for the dinner table [when evaluating a wine}?”
JB: “Always. [To] anyone who follows the wines that I like and the ones that I don’t, it’s generally pretty evident that I don’t give a lot of credence to wines that want to stand up and be heard on their own. That’s my bias. It’s one I kind of comfortably own.”
Jon Bonné on the phrase “new California wine” and how what he’s calling new is really one side in a battle that’s been fought for more than a century: “Even in a pre-Prohibition context, it was very clear that there was going to be this intrinsic tension between the commercialization and the industrialization of wine and really the pursuit of greatness on a human scale.”