At the time that I’m writing this, I’m about three weeks away from taking my “final exam” for the California Wine Appellation Specialist certification. What that means is that the past few weeks have seen me immersed neck-deep in California wine. Figuratively speaking, of course.
I am taking the course through the San Francisco Wine School under the tutelage of David Glancy, MS, CWE, and I couldn’t be happier. The course by itself is thorough and tough, but many of you know how I am. I tend to obsess, and my response to this course is no different.
Along with the course information and materials, I have done some reading on my own. Most of it has been in “study” mode, but I’ve found that I’ve also been just reading.
One of the books that has captured my attention is The New California Wine: a guide to the producers and wines behind a revolution in taste by Jon Bonné, the wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. I purchased this book as an addendum to my California studies, almost expecting it to be yet another dry tome of statistics, science, and geography. Nope.
The book reads like a cross between a documentary, a travel guide, a journal, wistful memories, and prognostications. Mr. Bonné is an excellent writer, which makes reading the book a joy. There’s no sudden grating typo or punctuation faux pas to disturb the tranquility of simply reading. If I yell at him, it’s because I don’t agree with his conclusions or assessments, not because he was a punctuation nitwit.
The book is broken down into three parts: Part 1 – Searching for the New California; Part 2 – The New Terroir: A California Road Trip; Part 3 – Wines of the New California: A Guide. As I finish my various certifications, I will indeed refer to this book as a guide as I plan my own extended California wine road trip. Reading it feels like I’m already traveling.
I love California. Period. I really do. I lived in California for over 18 years until I had to make some career choices and moved to Las Vegas. I love all of California wine country, which I’ve enjoyed more since I moved from California than I did when I still resided there. Reading this book is like catching up with old friends. Whether it’s reading about Adam Lee’s skirmish with Rajat Parr or Gary Eberle being honored as a pioneer in Paso Robles (yes, teeth are gritting), I felt that I was learning about what everyone was up to. When Mr. Bonné talks about the wines and wineries, I find myself nodding my head at those wines that I’ve also had the opportunity to taste or the wineries I’ve visited; his observations are often the same as my own. The difference is that he’s able to get “behind the scenes” and take us places where we may never go and talk to people whom we may never meet. Yes, there’s a lot of vicarious enjoyment in this book, and I often tried to imagine how I would have reacted and what I would have written had I been there as well. The title The New California Wine is just that; the new and upcoming winemakers are focusing on California as a presence. My favorite part of the book is the chapter on California terroir, “The Meaning of Place,” which is the primary struggle (in my opinion) that winemakers have had in establishing that sense of place for California wines.
Naturally I would have liked to have seen him spend more time in some other areas, but that’s for another author at another time as other California regions begin to garner attention. Some of the wineries of Malibu, San Bernardino, Riverside County (aka Temecula), and San Diego are interesting in their own right. No, those aren’t typos; there really are quite a few wineries in those regions. However, they have been largely absent from the struggles that have been going on in the more northern areas of the state and don’t really belong in this book’s conversation.
As California really starts to pull itself from under the shadow of the French versions of “how wine should be done,” I think that this book will be great way for people to appreciate what we have in our own back yard and how the new winemakers are focused on the quality and future of California wine. I feel that this is a first step of redefining what is “proper” in wine because California has proven – through the Judgment of Paris for starters – that it has the ability to compete with the best. Mr. Bonné’s observations throughout just confirms that.
This book is a keeper.