Jon Bonne’s book and his thoughts on the American wine palate
California long has been the crucible for much of American winemaking, and while there certainly are reasons why not every winemaking region in the U.S. (and elsewhere) can or should emulate that state’s wine industry, there still are lessons to learned from the Golden State.
That’s a round-about way of saying that Jon Bonné, wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, covers more than simply the upheaval he sees occurring in California in his recently published book, “The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.”
His insightful (and perhaps inciteful) book has been received some mixed reviews (hey, it’s about California, for starters) but mostly his work has been received well.
In one of many accolades, Eric Asimov of the New York Times, himself no slouch when it comes to promoting nuanced, well-made wines, says Bonné writes about the current “mental liberation among winemakers and consumers freed from a stultifying, dominant style that Mr. Bonné labels “Big Flavor.'”
Bonné, for his part, asserts there is an “aesthetic” revolution happening in California wines, those made by “people who remained committed to restrained, compelling wines that spoke clearly of their origins — and who shared my frustration with California’s modern style.”
Still, he also asserts there is no danger of “steakhouse Cabernet going away tomorrow.”
This post is a review, not of Bonné’s eminently readable book, but of that interview which I, being from a nascent wine-making state, found particularly interesting.
Many of the topics covered by Bonné and White are immensely applicable to the Colorado and other young wine industries and to the wine industry in general, as to be expected of something from the wide-ranging Bonné.
The prior and the following quotes are from the interview mentioned above.
Bonné points out the roles played now and in the future by winemaking regions lumped together as the “other 47” in developing a true American wine palate.
“I think the prospect of having small, local wineries making a quality product – maybe not the great wines of the world, but a quality wine– makes wine a local business,” Bonné said. “It could be Virginia… It could be Colorado…And ultimately, it’s what the Europeans have grown accustomed to, which is that wine is an industry that surrounds you, rather than being something far off.”
Simply, or as simply as I can put it, it’s knowing that wine is a local business and not simply a shelf-talker in a liquor store, of knowing you can go out to a local winery and enjoy a bottle of locally made (and, in our case, of locally grown) wine.
The next step, which too many fail to do, is making the connection between something amorphously “agriculture” and something that is “the next great step in the maturing of American wine culture,” Bonné puts it.
As young wine industries mature, they attract people who aren’t interested solely in the novelty of a Colorado or Virginia or (fill in the blank) wine but intrigued by the quality of it, as well.
“I think there will be more states that do mature in their wine industries — and I think that’s essential to actually getting more people to drink wine,” Bonné said.
It’s also obvious the drivers in that maturity are the young adults of today and tomorrow. They’re curious, inquisitive and eager to try something new.
They aren’t strangers to wine, as was my Baby Boom generation which at time struggled to find decent wines, but instead have grown up with wine on the table.
One last thing, although there are so many great topics Bonné and White covered.
It’s what Bonné calls “the Whole Foods gap,” explained by White as “the same people who want free-range chicken and organic, locally sourced spinach are happy to pick up a $5 bottle of who knows what when they purchase wine.”
A recent survey showed the average bottle of wine in the U.S. sells for $6-$9.
In contrast, the average bottle of Colorado wine costs $16.68, according to Colorado State University.
“Americans like to drink cheap,” White pointed out.
But Bonné said there’s “a virtue” in making people aware of the spending gap.
“There is a purpose in buying a wine made by a relatively small winery or a small business that’s interested in making a specific wine that doesn’t lean on industrial scale,” he said.
“And that’s where the Whole Foods gap comes in — people who are willing to pay a premium for whatever it is, say tomato sauce made by a small company rather than Ragu, are going to need to extend those values into wine over time.”.
There already are people, Bonné said, “all over the country who … want to drink American wine, who very much believe in it…They simply haven’t found wines that speak to them.”