Monday, September 23, 2013

Blind Book Review--Jon Bonné's "The New California Wine"


Crap. (No, that’s not the review.)

I’m so disgusted with myself. What a moron! I just finished not reading the review copy I didn’t receive of Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine and, of all the smelly piles of natural wine, it turns out my entire wine cellar is filled with Old California Wine. Now what am I going to do? I live in wine country, I can’t drink this embarrassing swill in public! Goddamit, I might as well just give away my old vintages of Spottswoode Cabernet to the homeless sommeliers hanging around freeway off-ramps with signs reading, “Will Condescend for Food—When Paired with Appropriate Wine.” I never should have bought that garbage in the first place. Napa Valley Cabernet! Jackass. I knew I should have invested in Trousseau Noir. It’s humiliating.

Luckily for us all, Jon Bonné has written “A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.” Somehow a link between “revolting” and “taste” makes perfect sense as the book’s subtitle. I haven’t read the book, but actually reading it isn’t necessary to book reviewing. I prefer to review new wine books blind, in the same manner major wine critics claim to review wines. I’m behind the Revolution in New Book Reviewing. And, besides, just read the blurbs for The New California Wine. It’s a grand tradition in book publishing to solicit quotes from famous authors praising a new book. It’s a highly suspect practice. Often it’s obvious they haven’t read the book, but, wordsmiths that they are, they don’t need to. Here are a trio of actual blurbs for The New California Wine that I borrowed from Amazon.

The New California Wine delivers some of the most insightful wine writing you’ll read anywhere. This is the real skinny on cutting-edge California wine from somebody who’s on the ground, knows his stuff, and could care less about offending the Establishment.”
—MATT KRAMER, author and columnist for Wine Spectator

“There are few greater authorities on California wine than Jon Bonné. Dispassionate but engaged, enthused but objective, Bonné brings a forensic rigor to his work. But The New California Wine is no textbook, in spite of its comprehensive scope. Instead, Bonné’s narrative moves at a rattling pace, delving into California’s colorful past and vividly describing its future. A must-read for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine.” 
—GUY WOODWARD, former editor at Decanter

“A gutsy, inspiring book driven by the same ideals as the movement it has so gracefully defined. Not only has Bonné delivered one of the most important and relevant books on California wine ever written, he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book. The New California Wine is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek inside the motives and methods of California’s new avant-garde.” 
—TALIA BAIOCCHI, editor-in-chief, Punch

I love this kind of baloney.

Matt Kramer is clearly confused, and thought the publishers asked that he write a blurb about himself—they just changed “Matt Kramer” to “The New California Wine.” And even then it’s nonsense. What “Establishment” is he unafraid of? The San Francisco Chronicle? Wine Spectator? Richard Milhous Nixon? Guy Woodward displays why he’s a “former editor” with his use of the classic and shopworn huckster’s label “must-read.” Unless he means you should read it while fermenting must. Tacking on, “…for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine” is unsettling. You know what I’m thinking…Woodward is the damned Establishment Kramer warned us about!

But leave it to Talia Baiocchi, Millennial wine visionary and Bonné Buddy, to reach new heights of dizzying drivel with“…he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book.” Let’s see, I’d define a wine book as a well-written, useful, informative collection of paragraphs printed on quality paper and professionally bound. I can’t wait to see how Bonné tosses all that aside. But, then, after all, the book “…is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek…” Hell, it’s Mein Kampf.

The greater truth, I’d guess, is that Talia has thrown down the gauntlet to Jon to write an even more outrageously preposterous blurb for her forthcoming book on Sherry--a book, you’ll be amazed to learn, from the same publisher!

“Baiocchi has not just written a book about Sherry, she’s delivered the wine book of the year—indeed, of any year since Gutenberg invented the printing press. She has a consummate palate, and a bigger vocabulary than William F. Buckley, who one hopes is now covered with a lovely flor. There will never be the need for another book on Sherry, so if you’re writing one, well, you are so screwed.”
--JON BONNÉ, author, manifesto maven, forensic wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle

It must be said that I love the book’s cover. For me, it conjures up the image of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, only the farmer has bludgeoned his harridan of a wife and just finished burying her in the vineyard. Either that, or Buster Posey makes wine.

The New California Wine pays tribute to the new breed of California winemakers, winemakers unafraid to work in appellations where land and grapes are cheaper even if their resulting wine prices aren’t. Winemakers who shun California’s outdated traditions of using the best in modern winemaking techniques to make clean, expressive, delicious wines in favor of the winemaking ways of our ancestors, rolling the viticultural dice and not caring if it comes up Craps. Winemakers who courageously follow their own vision of what wine should taste like with no regard for public opinion and general standards of taste, knowing that there are dozens of gullible sommeliers around the country happy to champion their wines in order to appear hip and part of the New California Wine movement. Bonné chronicles these visionaries in the grand tradition of Sonoma County’s most famous journalist, Robert Ripley.

The New California Wine is about expressing the unique terroir (I always wonder, can terroir not be unique?) of California. And what better way is there to express terroir than extended skin contact for white wine, putting it into a traditional plastic egg to ferment, using only indigenous yeast (their papers are rigidly checked at the border to be certain they are not illegal alien yeast), and then bottled without sulfites, which only serve to protect wine in the same unquestioning manner of Syrian thugs protecting Assad, in anti-technology Stelvin closures? This is the real future of California wine, and Bonné provides insightful commentary on why this is a good thing. Simply put, the new California wine takes elitism and wine babble to an entirely new level, putting California in the forefront of the worldwide explosion of wine oneupsmanship. California can produce novelty wines on a par with any country in the world.

Here are a few excerpts from The New California Wine that I made up:

“For too long, the California wine industry has manipulated their wines like a rabid baboon handling his little primate peepee—out of habit, and right in front of a perplexed public. But that’s changing, and now all the masturbating goes on behind winery doors where it’s more private, and where it's also easier to jerk off the public.”

“For years wines have been tailor-made for the palates of Robert Parker and James Laube. Palates, it’s safe to say, that are more worn out than the Hundred Point Scale, and just as worthless. The best new California wines are for finer, more sophisticated, palates. Palates like mine, and Alice Feiring’s. So they’re not as dogmatic.”

“Balance is the key to defining great wines, as long as you understand that great wines are also the key to defining balance. Ask any Highway Patrol officer. The new California wines epitomize balance and integrity. If you just want something good to drink, well, California’s new breed of winemakers is leaving you behind.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel grateful that I have Eric Asimov to teach me how to love wine, Matt Kramer to make sense of wine, and Jon Bonné to prove when it comes to California wine, making sense of it and loving it are a colossal waste of time.


19 comments:

Lynn said...

"For me, it conjures up the image of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, only the farmer has bludgeoned his harridan of a wife and just finished burying her in the vineyard."

You're right! This is exactly what the photo looks like.

Thomas said...

Great non-review review.

Under the illusion that people don't believe what they read anyway, some publishers are doing away with the blurb.

Jim said...

Goddamn it Ron, you continue to outdo yourself. Now it looks like I have been crying, well I have, but it was the laughter that did it. I will have to make up an excuse that I was saddened by the drone strike that took out Bonne' who looks a whole lot like Bashar-al Assad with glasses (I've never seen them together in a room).

Another brilliant piece of Tomskewerly or some equally clever word.

The Sommeliere said...

Ron dearest, this one really cracked me up (and I needed cracking!)

"I might as well just give away my old vintages of Spottswoode Cabernet to the homeless sommeliers hanging around freeway off-ramps with signs reading, “Will Condescend for Food—When Paired with Appropriate Wine.”

(OFF TOPIC A BIT, BUT...)
After I left New York and my somm job at the French Culinary Institute, I had visions of myself holding a sign on the 405 Freeway, saying pretty much the same thing (absenting the "condescend" part).

I was hired, get this, by a culinary school in Laguna Beach, to somm and teach the culinary students about wine (which I did at what was then called the FCI.)

However, to PROVE I knew what I was talking about (hot credentials notwithstanding), I had to taste SIX wines blind, ID the grape and the region. I got the job.

Unknown said...

Do blind people even like wine?

Chris / 'Knurd

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Lynn,
It's a strange photo for a book cover, but, well, there you have it. You can't tell a book by it's cover, but you can tell by not reading it.

Thomas,
Was it SPY Magazine that had a feature showing reciprocal blurbs? Very funny. I love books, I want books to sell, but blurbs are, for the most part, bogus.

Jim,
Thanks.

I suspect I'm the one who has to worry about a drone strike.

Marlene Darling,
Sounds a game show, not a job interview. But good for you. I can barely identify wines with the labels exposed, but, then, I'm damn near blind.

Chris,
Yes, we do.

Charlie Olken said...

Trousseau is the new Bastardo. You heard it here. And all two acres of it are changing the entire CA landscape. The NYT said so, and I will bet a dollar that I do not need to read the new book to here that same line again.

Or to quote Christina Turley, daughter of Larry, niece of Helen, "I am so over the low-alcohol trend the minimalist intervention thing".

Is she ahead of her time or a heretic? I am guessing that you will not need to sell your Spottwoode collection. The world never left you--only those who see revolution in Bastardo and Ribolla Gialla.

Dean Tudor said...

As a wine/food book reviewer, I believe you are trying to put me out of work...taking food off my table...

FYI, Matt ran his blurb past me (in this business, it is called "log rolling", and the blurber is called a "log roller"..the blurbee gets to sink or swim).

He originally had said "inciteful" (I have the original email), NOT insightful. His publisher's spellcheck program changed it...So there.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,
I loved the idea that minimalist intervention, unusual varieties, and young winemakers adds up to the "new" California wine. Couldn't one have said all of those things twenty years ago when the Rhone varieties suddenly became the "it" thing? And, simply put, since when is new equivalent to revolutionary or better? But, you do have to sell books as much as you have to sell wine.

I'm actually interested to read Jon's book. Jon, if you're reading (yeah, right) send me a copy!

Hey, I can beg. I'm a Poodle.

Dean,
What, they didn't ask you for a blurb? I'd be insulted. If you write a book and need a blurb, call me. I'm in.

The blurb thing works. It's the 100 point scale of book publishing. I can't wait to see Jon's blurb for a new Kramer book, or Jenna Talia's Sherry "manifesto."

Nice to be treated like idiots.

Charlie Olken said...

There is nothing new about folks new to the dance thinking they invented music.

I think you might be old enough to remember the Lindy, but even if you are not, you certainly remember our generation telling ourselves not to trust anyone over thirty--and then we turned thirty.


Trousseau and its two acres is no more the next big thing than the Edsel.

But it is one thing to excuse the arrogance of youth. The problem is that the author of whom you speak so highly is no spring chicken.

Discovery is one of the exciting joys of being a wine geek. Understanding what you have discovered and seeing it in context could have made the book into a screed for our times here in California.

Instead, it will only be one man's view of the world as seen from a very narrow perspective.

Martin said...

On the money. AGAIN!

What can you say about someone who writes 'Here are some excerpts I made up'. Sniggeringly wonderful.

And that photo! He really does look like a serial killer who just buried his most recent victim. Watching 'Criminal Minds' the FBI show last night tells me that burying the victim shows remorse. So maybe pronouncing the old scene as dead was a mistake/premature. Hang on to those Napa Cabs. They'll be back in fashion any day now.
Martin Moran MW

Thomas said...

Bury the victim shows remorse?

Am I going to have to go back and find them all?

Charlie: You and I probably know all too well that if you want to write a book it's probably best that you come up with a reason for others to want to read it. The reason doesn't have to make any sense; it only has to make people read the book.

I disagree with you here: Discovery is one of the exciting joys of being a wine geek.

The insecure aren't about to step out on a limb to make their own discovery--they need to be told.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,
I don't recall speaking highly of Jon, I just said I wanted to read the book. Jon is a talented writer, whether I agree with his point of view or not.

And how long will it be before Paul Gregutt publishes "The New Washington Wine?" I think I smell another trend.

Martin,
Great point! I need to watch more TV. Burying victims either shows remorse or good hygiene.

I do enjoy the Blind Book Reviews because they make almost no sense, and I can go any place I want with my "review." Once you read the book, then you have to say something relevant and insightful. (Dean, should that be "inciteful?" I'm so confused now.)

Blind tasting wines, on the other hand, is so boring.

Thomas,
"The insecure"--So, everybody?

Charlie Olken said...

" ... whether I agree with his point of view or not."

And thereis, dear friend, lies the rub. No one is saying that he, or anyone else, is not entitled to a point of view.

It is when that point of view starts getting sold as "the revolution" that it is not only possible to review his book without reading it, but it is time to question the entire premise.

And if Paul Gregutt does do a book about the newest new things in WA winemaking, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will not insult everything else that exists up there.

Erik said...

Dear Hosemaster,


First of all I live in Sweden, where the 200 some wine growing amateurs seem to favor varietals such as Solaris (a lab cross btw merzling, zarya severa and muscat ottonel if you by chance have heard of these elite grapes). And I can't believe you made me google buster posey (a simpe pun unless I missed the point entirely). I have tried to love baseball even more than I have tried to love trousseau. It's not that I don't get that some people will pass time doing the stuff, it's just that it doesn't create the excitement of a summer league basketball game at Rucker park or a pascal roblet volnay 1er cru.
At any rate, as a student of irony, in the sense of mr F Schlegel, I will honestly tell you, that you had me confused both as to what has actually been written (and published) and by whom, as well as what you Sir actually thinks about it? This must be why irony is such a powerful rhetorcal trope, and perhaps why the writers who specialize in it never quite "makes it big"( in the global sense of a Celine Dion, Mike Ditka or a George w. Bush).

Your most devoted fan,

Erik E.

Erik said...

Ps I mean, of course, to say I liked your review very much

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
It doesn't matter so much what Jon, or Alice, or Eric, or even you tell the public--they vote with their wallets. Jon has a position of some power, but, in the grand scheme of things, it's all just a hill of beans. The market for the New Kids on the Block California wines is so small as to be statistically insignificant, just like the market for biodynamic wines. It's elitism, and it's fun. But the market for delicious, well-made wines never goes away. And never will.

I just poke fun at everybody. My agenda is the agenda of the Fool.

Erik,
If you're confused by the piece, that's perfect. It's a bit of meaningless buffoonery with the underlying conceit of reviewing books without having read them. It shouldn't make sense to you any more than baseball does.

So thanks.

Charlie Olken said...

Ron, I love it when you feign modesty. Your loyal fans, of which I am pleased to be one, know better.

In order to do great comedy, the writer also has to have a keen eye for foibles and the ability to exploit them.

I will admit that I find Jon incredibly smug and maddening when he runs around insulting everything and everyone that does not comport to his narrow standards. In that way, he is nothing more than the Alice Feiring of the West Coast.

I hope you get to read his book because the excerpts sent out by his publisher read like "I am the voice and you who like CA wine don't know shit". People who do that deserve more than simple lampooning. They deserve derision no matter how smart they are, no matter how elevated their wordsmithing abilities are, no matter for whom they write.

The most disappointing thing about all this posturing is that Jon does have something useful to say. He just cannot say it without insulting most everyone.

And while we are on the subject, let me recommend to you a useful little offering called "Loam Baby" by R. H. Drexel. It is the third in the series by Drexel, who is, like Jon, an insider who has a vision for what is and what is coming. See the CGCW blog today for Steve Eliot's review of the latest from Drexel.

Barb said...

So clever. So true. So laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks for brightening my afternoon!