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California seeing a wine ‘revolution’, says Bonne

A new wave of producers in California can no longer be dismissed as a 'sideshow', says Decanter columnist Jon Bonne, who pinpoints important changes taking place in the US sunshine state.

Californian wine is undergoing a revolution as significant as the one that saw the region arrive on the world stage 40 years ago by beating the best of Bordeaux in the fabled 1976 Paris tasting.

At least, that’s according to Jon Bonne, a Decanter World Wine Awards judge and monthly Decanter columnist, who was in London this week to talk about his recently-published book, The New California.

Bonne’s assertions have divided opinion. Some have criticised his examples of new wave wines as far too niche. Since his arrival from the US East Coast to be wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, others have even suggested that Bonne does not understand what makes California wine tick.

In what could be regarded as a thinly-veiled riposte to his critics, Bonne described this week how the 1990s era saw many Californian producers switch to bigger, sweeter styles of wine. This, he said, was partially driven by new consumers coming into the wine market and swathes of young vines more attuned to producing such styles.

However, he argued it also came down to the influence of certain key figures. ‘If you made a wine in a riper, sweeter style you would be rewarded. But if you made wine in another style you could be punished and called out for it,’ he said in London, at a tasting organised by Roberson.

‘Now, we are starting to see more diversity,’ he said. ‘These new wines have structure, freshness and fruit.’ Terroir has become increasingly important. ‘We’re getting to the point where you can have more meaningful conversations about the meaning of place.’

To emphasis his point on new styles emerging from California, Bonne showed six wines at the tasting, including a Broc Cellars Vine Starr Zinfandel 2012 from Sonoma County, a Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Napa Valley, a Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir 2011 from Santa Rita Hills and a Tatomer Wines ‘kick-on ranch’ Riesling 2010 from Los Alamos in Santa Barbara County.

Some have suggested that California is attempting to mimick Old World-style elegance. But, Bonne said this was ‘snide and dismissive’.

He added, ‘Perhaps the most fatuous thing a Californian has ever said is that they’re trying to make Burgundy wine. It’s offensive to both California and Burgundy.’

Bonne also showed two Chardonnays at the tasting, a Lioco 2012 and an Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch 2012 from Sonoma County. ‘Californian Chardonnay is angling to be in the conversation with the best Burgundies,’ he said.

He added that he sees a future for Grune Veltliner in California. ‘Everyone thinks it’s a cool climate grape, but it’s deceptively appropriate for some warm places.’

Written by Chris Mercer

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