Ten years after The New California Wine was printed, Jon Bonné has printed his second e-book – an epic story of France’s revolution. Vinfolio’s Sophie Thorpe caught up with the creator to speak about his formidable challenge to seize The New French Wine
“I can die completely happy now,” Jon Bonné chuckles to me. The author spent virtually a decade because the wine man at The San Francisco Chronicle, and is now Managing Editor at Resy, having frolicked at Punch, writing for Noble Rot, Decanter and plenty of extra in between. His newest e-book, The New French Wine, was launched earlier this yr and The New York Occasions wine critic Eric Asimov devoted a complete column to singing its praises – one thing he virtually by no means does.
The hefty, two-part tome has been a very long time within the making – virtually a decade, in reality. The concept was a frivolous suggestion, casually agreed to over one too many drinks (“unsulfured Gamay in Oakland – as one does”) along with his editor in 2014, quickly after the publication of his seminal The New California Wine. However what was conceived as a part of his quest for “the following factor”, to construct on the momentum of his first e-book, quickly spiraled.
“It’s very laborious to see an even bigger image of French wine as a result of it’s so overwhelming,” Bonné tells me over Zoom. Initially he’d envisaged a number of journeys, a challenge that may take a few years – nevertheless it “stored rising and rising and rising”.
“There was this a lot larger story that I used to be type of stumbling into,” the author says. He steadily realized that there was an “huge meta transformation” going down throughout France – and that is what the e-book wrestles with. As he writes within the e-book’s introduction, “I imagined the brand new French wine could be concerning the undiscovered nation – the cracks between identified locations.” However as he quickly found, the brand new French wine was in all places – and it took him 9 years to piece all of it collectively.
The work is cut up into two separate books – The Narrative and The Producers, the previous the story behind the reference information that varieties the latter. The Narrative is a deep dive into the face of France and its winegrowing at the moment, damaged down by area, with break-out essays on subjects akin to pure wine, farming and the appellation system. It’s a wealthy tapestry of tales, interjected with the frank and placing pictures of Susannah Eire and occasional illustrated map by Francesco Bongiorni, harking back to Artwork Deco postcards.
For Bonné, the “new France” is about postmodernism, about “wilful rejections of the b******t of the previous”. It’s a couple of (re)give attention to web site, about producers seizing their future and looking for a extra sustainable method – within the winery, vineyard and past – though it’s removed from that straightforward. “To know French wine and to adore it, you merely must embrace its messy, self-contradictory, and, sure, difficult postmodern actuality,” he writes. He factors to Muscadet and Beaujolais as two of probably the most thrilling and consultant areas of this motion – each having fully reinvented themselves inside a technology. Producers right here, he tells me, are “doing the work and specializing in terroir and approach and farming”, whereas Champagne “has fully remodeled its imaginative and prescient of what its wine ought to be”.
Change is most significantly, nevertheless, “an inclusive drive” – and who did (and didn’t) make it into The Producers, Bonné’s definitive gazetteer of the nation’s movers and shakers, shines a light-weight on this. It’s not an inventory of the vignerons he loves, it’s a pain-staking number of these he deems vital and significant within the context of the motion – encompassing each extra conventional names and people on the fringes. Take the Bordeaux chapter; you’ll discover Châteaux Pétrus, Lafleur and Pontet-Canet, in addition to many much less standard, smaller and infrequently natural-leaning properties akin to Clos 19 Bis or Château Julia – with “Benchmarks” and the extra up-and-coming “Names to Know” highlighted.
It’s fascinating – and enjoyable – to see these two, seemingly opposing strands of France’s wine scene woven collectively. After I queried the inclusion of those elder statesmen of French wine, he highlighted how, for him, Pontet-Canet completely exemplifies the change in France at the moment, with the forward-thinking Tesseron household handing the keys to earlier cellar grasp Jean-Michel Comme to do “radical, radical s**t”.
Bonné intentionally chooses to champion those that have revved the engine of broader revolution – and people who mirror that revolution’s values. On the subject of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, for instance, he describes how they “upheld the ethical pillars of Burgundy and winemaking” and “use their energy for good”; whereas one high Pauillac property he vehemently tells me is “perpetuating the worst practices of the Bordeaux commerce”. For him, “wine is a consumable” and, as Twenty first-century customers, “individuals have a proper to discover the values of producers”.
Whereas Bonné definitely likes pure wine – and most of the motion’s figureheads function within the e-book, he’s removed from an evangelist. When he first began serious about the e-book, pure wine was completely different; “It hadn’t fairly catalysed into this very particular cultural beast,” he says, a cultural beast born in Hackney, Bushwick or Paris’s eleventh. He talks concerning the motion’s “sense of tragic style” and the way, with its clique-y nature, it has “baked in its personal expiration date”. There have been, he tells me, producers that didn’t make the minimize – those that act as a “cautionary story” for pure wine. “There are wines that may be delicate to being transported. After which there are wines which might be simply f***ed up on the supply,” he says frankly.
His outlook is broadly constructive for France, the nation’s ongoing revolution and its vignerons, however the e-book additionally acts as a name to arms of types, for: “The enforcers of the previous methods will probably be pressured to adapt, or they may perish,” he writes.
It’s not an ideal e-book. With a piece of this dimension (over 860 pages and 600,000 phrases), it’s virtually inevitably barely outdated by the point it’s printed – particularly with the tempo of change at the moment. Lafleur’s entry, for instance, talks of Acte however not Les Perrières. I’d even have cherished to have captions for every of Susannah Eire’s pictures, figuring out the place – and of whom – they have been taken. However these are quibbles.
I can’t fake to be unbiased. Bonné is certainly one of my favourite wine writers. There’s a lightness to his phrasing, with dry humor and a palate that I are inclined to establish with – though I’d argue he’s change into slightly extra funk-friendly through the years. His writing is clever with out being arduous. Maybe it’s as a result of, like Andrew Jefford, he was and is a journalist first. What actually fills his writing is a way of pleasure, of virtually gluttony – it’s nonetheless stuffed with the joy that so many wine writers appear to lose, as they tire of bottle after bottle of remarkable wine. He’s nonetheless simply absorbed by the tales that make every one completely different.
For me, he doesn’t match neatly into the critic field, regardless that it’s a time period he makes use of to explain himself repeatedly in our dialog. “The notion of a critic has devolved to a spot the place you might be merely handing out numbers,” he explains, however to him his work is about “criticism at a deeper degree”. It’s about “having the ability to dive into the tradition and are available away with the insights and interpretation, and clarify why sure wines actually do matter”.
And it’s this that makes The New French Wine stand aside. It isn’t only a wine e-book; wine is the lens by means of which Bonné observes a broader cultural shift. Whether or not you agree with the whole lot he says or not, it’s a pleasure to learn, maintain and have a look at. It’s a e-book that may immediate dialog, immediate you to uncork bottles, immediate you to think about fairly how difficult – and endlessly fascinating – France’s wine scene is. And is there something extra French than that?