I received from an anonymous source (Edward Snowden), whose identity I am not at liberty to disclose (Bradley Manning), these confidential leaks (W. Blinky Bray) of Lost Chapters from Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine. Due to their controversial nature, the publishers of the book decided to exclude them and keep them secret. The Lost Chapters are available only here on HoseMaster of Wine™, where I am publishing them at great personal risk. The great personal risk of being called a Julian Assangehole, which I find offensive and accurate. I believe the Lost Chapters are relevant to today’s discussion of the new California wines, and proved valuable insight into the author’s mindset for writing the book. So without further ado, or setup, here’s the first Lost Chapter.
“We need you to save California wine.”
Everywhere I went I heard this same sentiment over and over from a new and discerning group of wine drinkers. Though widely criticized as still-living-at-home crybabies, a new generation of wine drinkers was questioning the California wine status quo. Most were tired of spending Daddy’s money on the jammy, homogenous California wines that scored huge points with ordinary wine critics. They wanted to spend Daddy’s money on wines Daddy wouldn’t like, be on mailing lists for wines that might not be recognizably wine. They were looking for a “New Messiah for the New California wine.” Their words, not mine.
I was not in the mood. “I’m working on it. Jesus. It’s not that easy. You try making sense of what those hip, new winemakers are saying.” And this book was born.
In my position as wine critic for the greatest newspaper in the greatest city in the country, I’ll let you Google that, I have a ringside seat at the great match between the Old California wine and the New California wine. You might say I’m the referee, and the match is fixed. But it’s my job to make the battle look legit, and I’m sure, by the end of the book, you’ll agree with my decisions.
In order to find the New California wine, first I had to find the new California. Turns out it’s in Washington, but the newspapers up there suck, so I looked again, and found it right under my nose. In the very state I live in. Vegetative. The new California was right under my feet the whole time, just beneath the old California. It was in the soil. The old California wine was about everything above the land--the showplace wineries, the elaborate tasting rooms, the ostentatious auctions, the bloated critics of bloated publications floating above the land like hot air balloons with gout.
The New California wines were about the soil. It was time that California learned that no matter how much money you throw at making wine, it begins with the dirt. I had to come down from my Shining City upon a hill and walk the dirt, among the people of the dirt, among the winemakers striving to give expression to that dirt. It’s a completely new highway to the New California wine. A dirt highway. Touch the dirt, and you will find the true beauty of wine. Bend over, friends, show me the great dirt highway, and I’ll show you the New California wine.
It’s that great dirt highway that is slowly excreting a new movement. Stand back and you can watch it emerge. There are little piles of it all over the New California, and it wasn’t long, once I started to look, that I was stepping in it. Great big piles of it. And then I began to see it in the finest restaurants being promoted by young and hip sommeliers. They recognized it for what it was, a fresh and steamy alternative to the old California wines. They couldn’t wait to sell it to their customers to see the look on their faces. Here were wines that didn’t rely on reputation or flavor to sell, perfect wines for sommeliers. The wines relied on guilt, and the age-old desire to be rebellious without necessarily being right. Wines for a New California.
When I first arrived in California to be the wine critic for the greatest newspaper in the greatest city in the country (Google it), I had trouble finding California wines I liked. I was like a vegan at a weenie roast. The weenies turned out to be the other wine critics who worked the California beat. They were part of the problem, as weenies often are. They were too busy kissing their own buns with relish to see the problem. And, finally, after years of trying, it was just too painful to push a weenie down the dirt highway. I would have to go it alone.
Coming down from my Shining City upon a hill, I began to find a new generation of winemakers, winemakers unafraid to stake their careers on unusual varieties made with minimal intervention. I gave them my blessing. They asked if I liked orange wines, and I nodded my head in approval. And not long after that, there were dozens of examples of orange wines, wines made from white grapes given extended skin contact. Orange wines have a long tradition in the history of wine, just as in human history there is a long tradition of torture. Yet orange wines are often criticized for being exactly what they are meant to be, experiments in pushing the envelope of what humans can bear. Orange wines, at their best, are prime examples of winemaking at the edge. And it’s the edge, after all, that makes the difference when you’re drunk and fall headfirst into a coffee table. In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to Holden.”
I also found winemakers working with esoteric varieties so that when the wines didn’t taste right, no one would know. This, too, would be the New California wine. I found winemakers making wines from vineyards planted in unusual places outside the usual appellations so that no one could say they got the terroir wrong. Yet another aspect of the New California wine. There are even winemakers with vaginas. Only time will tell if they’ll be part of the New California wine.