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Meet the Judges: Jon Bonne

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Decanter World Wine Awards, we're profiling a number of this year's judges, who are some of the world's most renowned wine experts. Our 'Meet the Judges' interview series offers a rare insight into the world of wine and judging from the key industry experts deciding this year's best wines.

Wine Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Bonné resides in California but also witnessed the rise of Washington’s wine industry, and believes that an omnivorous approach to wine is valuable. Find out about Decanter’s new Regional Chair for USA in this interview…

Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?

I’m based in San Francisco, where I’m the wine editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, and since the beginning of the year I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute a column to Decanter as well.

Tell us a bit about your expertise and how you got into wine?

I grew up with it – my father trained as a chef and ran a catering and gourmet food business, so wine was always around. I went off to school and became a journalist, and then made my way back to wine. Before San Francisco, I spent six years in Seattle, where I was the Wine Columnist and Lifestyle Editor at MSNBC.com – here I witnessed first-hand the maturing of Washington’s wine industry.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a wine journalist?

Wine draws some of the world’s most intelligent and remarkable people to it.

For every winery that’s more sizzle than steak, there’s a smart, talented winemaker out there who believes in wine’s best cultural values. I’ve made it my mission to try and find them.

Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?

There have been many, but I’d highlight two:

Firstly, Alice and Olivier de Moor, who make a tiny amount of Chablis in the not particularly well-known village of Courgis. They are a couple who fought to get their hardscrabble land in a back corner of Burgundy, and who have to work it themselves every day. They are of course no different to hundreds of talented vignerons, but it’s the huge resonance of the de Moors’ wines in New York and San Francisco, and the utter humility of their winemaking, which is precisely what makes me love wine.

The other would be Ted Lemon, who runs Littorai in western Sonoma. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more thoughtful or intellectually provocative person. An Ivy League-educated son of a New York magazine editor, spending his days thinking about great manure, and removing from the process all the things California holds dear (flashy winemaking, fashionable clones), is again everything that is right about wine.

What are your most memorable wine moments?

What sticks are experiences:

  • My first visit to the Hirsch vineyard, on the remote Sonoma coast – a revelation in the extremes of terroir.
  • A few visits to Steve Matthiasson’s farm outside Napa that cut California’s beauty down to its quintessential truth.
  • An afternoon hiking the Spitzerberg, in Austria’s Carnuntum – an object lesson in terroir.

Also, there was a dinner I shared with Hugh Johnson relatively early in my writing career. We drank Chasselas.

Which kinds of wines do you think should be given more attention in 2013?

  • There is a new wave in California that I think is just starting to get wider attention – wines that will bring a new relevance and maturity to American wine.
  • Austria is rallying – its whites are as world-class and as great Burgundy, and the reds aren’t far behind.
  • Micro-grower Champagnes – people like Jerome Prevost and Emmanuel Brochet
  • Great Beaujolais

I think so many rules about pedigree are being rewritten right now.

Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment?

I’ve been drinking a lot more white wine. It had been Muscadet, but I’ve been moving on to drier German Rieslings, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and a good bit of Californian Chardonnay of the new, pristine style.

What’s your desert island wine?

For durability, it probably should be Madeira, maybe some very old Terrantez.

Otherwise, I might have to go with a great bottle of rosé Champagne, something like Pierre Peters’ Albane, Bouchard’s Creux d’Enfer, or Fleury’s rosé – the sort of fizz you just have to meditate with.

What single piece of advice do you have for people just starting out in wine?

Honestly, I think the best thing they could do is throw out those paint-by-numbers books, ditch class and just immerse themselves in primary-source material.

There’s enough diversity of wine, and information about it, that the best way to gain knowledge is by being omnivorous; however, I was the kid who refused to memorise his multiplication tables, so take my advice with that prism.

When judging, what are you looking for in great wine?

It’s got to be delicious, and it’s got to have a distinction – a unique character.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?

Considering the quality of American wines in a very different venue, and with a much more globally-minded set of fellow judges. I think a broader perspective is extraordinarily valuable.

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2013 is now open for entries. Click here for more information and to enter wines into this year’s competition.

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