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California undergoing a ‘rapid’ revolution

Jon Bonné, wine critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, believes the Californian wine industry is experiencing a “rapid” and “vital” revolution as significant as the one that took place in the ‘70s.

Jon Bonné

Speaking at a seminar in London organised by independent wine merchant Roberson, Bonné said: “I noticed a change occurring around 2010 when a new band of winemakers started gaining attention in California that changed the wine conversation.

“They are still referred to as ‘sideshow’ wines, but I don’t see them that way. These are the wines that are starting to define the industry in a revolution that is as significant as the one that took place in the region 40 years earlier.

“Producers like Sandhi are offering a completely different interpretation of places people knew and novel interpretations of places they didn’t.

“Change is taking place in California in a very rapid and vital way meaning we are now able to have a much more serious and detailed conversation about place and what Californian terroir represents.”

Bonné went on to comment that post the pioneering developments of Robert Mondavi at Mondavi, Paul Draper at Ridge and Warren Winiarski at Stag’s Leap in the ‘70s, California had reached a “decadent” phase by the mid-noughties.

“The wines were riper and have moved into offering pure impact. The excuse that producers were ‘making wines people wanted to drink’ was a copout,” he said.

Bonné also slammed the idea of describing a California wine as “Old World” in style.

“It really angers me. It’s snide, dismissive and takes a narrow view of what’s been happening in the Old World in places like Spain and Bordeaux. Equally, Californian producers that say they are trying to make ‘Burgundian’ wine is offensive to both California and Burgundy,” he said.

In terms of grape varieties, Bonné flagged up Grüner Veltliner as one to watch, predicting that it will make “a significant impact” in California in the coming years.

“Grüner Veltliner is deceptively appropriate in warmer places and does very well in parts of California you might not expect it to,” he said.

He went on to add that Chardonnay had moved into “a pioneering era” in California, offering “some of the best wines on earth.”

As for Zinfandel, Bonné singled out Turley Wine Cellars as making the “best” examples of the variety in California that offer “extraordinary balance, freshness and terroir specificity.”

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