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Jon Winroth dies aged 70

The eminent expatriate wine critic Jon Winroth has died in France aged 70.

Although he was not well known in the UK except by wine specialists, he was very popular in France and well-remembered by his many students, mostly American. He died early on Sunday morning, 15 July.

Jon Broneer (he used his mother’s name, Winroth, which means vine root in Swedish, for he was American of Swedish descent), was in the line of great American expatriates to France, like Waverly Root, Alexis Lichine and Julia Child and was certainly one of the best and most concise writers on wine that country ever had.

A prolific food and wine journalist, he founded l’Academie du Vin with Steven Spurrier in Paris in early 1973.

Spurrier said, ‘I first met Jon in 1971 or 72 when he was the wine correspondent for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (when he stopped this, they never hired another wine writer, relying on articles from the New York Times). We became friends immediately, and since at that time he was giving the occasional wine lecture to American students, whose programmes were run by his wife Doreen, it was logical that we would join forces when I had the opportunity to take over the place next door to my [wine shop] Caves de la Madeleine, and open a wine school.’

Winroth fell ill in 1973 with an inherited kidney disease, and became one of the earliest dialysis patients, a guinea pig for the new technique of night dialysis, which he was the first person in the Paris region to undergo.

His wife Doreen told decanter.com, ‘He would go off in our 2CV to the Tassin Centre at Lyon, have dinner with the doctor, plug himself in to the machine for ten or twelve hours, then come back. He would take the morning to recover, and by aperitif time he was fine.’

Long dialysis – as opposed to the modern short dialysis treatments which last two or three hours – meant Winroth would have three or four days between sessions. He would use this time to go on wine tasting trips, often as far afield as Italy or Spain.

His refusal to be hampered by the debilitating nature of the disease and its treatment obviously worked. As Doreen Winroth said, ‘He was on dialysis for 32 years, when the average survival time is four years in the US and 12 years in France.’

She attributes his longevity to his ‘perfectionist’ character, and the fact that his father, from whom he inherited at least half of his genes (the disease is passed down on his mother’s side) lived to the age of 97.

His illness meant Winroth progressively had to retire from giving regular courses at l’Academie du Vin, but it had little effect on his journalistic output. He started as the New York Times European edition correspondent in 1966, he was the main wine contributor to the International Herald Tribune from 1967-88, and the ground-breaking LUI magazine created a wine column for him which he wrote from 1979 to 1986.

His success at LUI put some home-grown critics’ noses out of joint, but as the editor Jean-Pierre Binchet said, ‘I didn’t create the job for them, I created it for him.’

He regularly contributed to Cuisine et Vins de France, Revue du Vin de France, and La Cote des Vins. In 2004 he was made Chevalier de L’Ordre du Merite Agricole in recognition of his services to French wine.

Spurrier adds, ‘Jon was a brilliant, direct taster. He was very trenchant in his opinions, which were generally right. He would not stand any nonsense from anyone, however important they were. He was certainly the most honest taster I have ever known. His particular passion was for little known appellations and unsung vignerons, many hundreds of whom he helped make a name for themselves in his columns.’

The Winroths were very much a part of the Parisian wine scene – Winroth was known for his knowledge of Burgundy – until they moved to the Loire ten years ago, where they quickly established themselves as experts on the wines of the region.

Winroth is survived by his wife Doreen, two sons and three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way. His sons tested negative for their father’s kidney condition when they were in their twenties. It is now eradicated in that branch of the family.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and Steven Spurrier

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