Jancis Robinson on American Wines

By Kathleen Thompson Hill | September 01, 2013
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Jancis Robinson, wine writer

Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s most respected wine writers, blames it all on “a boyfriend whose father gave him too much money.”

With that money said boyfriend bought, among other trinkets, a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny 1959 Burgundy for the two of them to enjoy.

And enjoy it Robinson did. Studying mathematics and philosophy at Oxford University at the time, she says that particular wine sent her in a new life direction as she sipped and fanaticized about “its romance, complexity, sensuality, history and geography.” She admits that, in that moment, the romance and sensuality parts were shared between her, the wine and the boyfriend, but her focus had shifted irretrievably to the wine and away from the boyfriend.

She did go on to earn her degree from Oxford, but her career choice upon graduation, the travel business, was a calculated call, offering her opportunities to explore the world and its wine regions. Robinson started her nearly 40-year writing career in earnest when, in 1975, she became assistant editor of Wine & Spirit, a British wine trade magazine.

I had the pleasure of meeting Robinson this past spring when she was in the area on a tour for her newest book, American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (University of California Press, 2013). The book covers wineries throughout California, Oregon, Washington and what Robinson and her co-author, Linda Murphy of Healdsburg, call “the other 47” states. Hundreds of Bay Area and California wineries take up more than half of the attractive and informative coffee table book.

Prior to turning her attention to American wines for the new book, Robinson made an international name for herself editing The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-authoring The World Atlas of Wine with Hugh Johnson. The latter will soon be published in its eighth edition—that is, after she gets back to London to finish it. She also serves as the wine writer for the Financial Times. Good taste apparently runs in the family: Her husband, Nick Lander, is the Financial Times’ food critic.

In 2003, Robinson was made an OBE (officer of the Order of the British Empire) in recognition of her work, and was the first person outside the wine profession to attain the coveted Master of Wine designation.

When asked how she has gained such prominence in the wine world, Robinson replied, “I work so bloomin’ hard. I was born on a Saturday: ‘Saturday’s daughter works hard for a living.’ If you consider having dinner with wine working, then yes, I work all the time.”

Robinson says she decided to focus her attention on American wines when she realized how important they have become in the world of wine. Wine is now produced in every state in the Union.

Although this is Robinson’s first book that focuses specifically on American wines, hers is not a new name in the United States. More than 250 fans showed up at the book signing at Jean-Charles Boisset’s newly renovated Raymond Vineyards, where I met up with she and co-author Murphy.

One of my first questions to Robinson was how she found and chose Murphy as a co-author. Easy.

Murphy started her writing career in the sports department of the San Diego Union newspaper and eventually became the paper’s sports editor. After visiting Sonoma County on vacation, she had that not-uncommon “light bulb moment” that told her that Sonoma was bliss and where she belonged— right among the vineyards, wineries and the rest of us.

After relocating up the coast, Murphy wanted to learn more about wine and took a job working a harvest at the renowned Merry Edwards winery. There, she combined her writing and wine skills to become the winery’s communications director, moving “from hack to flack,” as she put it, which obviously she did well.

Next, Murphy moved on to manage the now-defunct wine website of the New York Times. She returned to California and wrote for and then became editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section. It was there that she hired Robinson to write a wine column. Eventually, Robinson returned the favor and hired Murphy, who currently serves as West Coast editor of Robinson’s website, JancisRobinson.com. Co-authoring a book on American wines was a natural progression for the two women.

Murphy and Robinson together answered my question of how they selected the wineries to include. Basically, they looked for “trailblazers, pioneers and innovators,” although there certainly are many that would qualify that are not in the book. There is only so much space in a book that covers wine in all 50 states.


While American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States covers all 50 states, nearly half of the book focuses on California wineries. Naturally, half of those are located in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties.


MARIN COUNTY:
Kendrick Vineyards, Orogeny Vineyards, Pacheco Ranch Winery, Point Reyes Vineyards, Stubbs Vineyard, Sean Thackrey, Pey-Marin, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Dutton- Goldfield Winery, DeLoach Vineyards and Skywalker Ranch

NAPA COUNTY (BY DISTRICT):
Calistoga: Chateau Montelena, Bennett Lane, Clos Pegase, Cuvaison, Frank Family, Larkmead, Sterling, Storybrook Mountain/ Seps Estate, Summers, Tom Eddy, Twomey, Venge, Zahtila, Araujo, Carter Cellars and Switchback Ridge

Diamond Mountain District: Diamond Creek, Schramsberg, Azalea Springs, Constant, Diamond Terrace, Dyer, Reverie, J. Davies, Von Strasser and Seaver

Howell Mountain: Dunn, CADE, Ladera, La Jota, Lamborn, Robert Craig, O’Shaughnessy and Robert Foley

Spring Mountain: Smith-Madrone, Barnett, Behrens/Erna Schein, Cain, Hollywood & Vine, Paloma, Spring Mountain, Terra Valentine, Newton and Pride Mountain

St. Helena: Beringer, Charles Krug, Freemark Abbey, Heitz, Louis M. Martini, Benessere, Duckhorn, Ehlers Estate, Hall, Titus, Trinchero, Vineyard 29, Whitehall Lane, Corison, Joseph Phelps and Spottswoode

Rutherford: Beaulieu, Inglenook, Cakebread, Flora Springs, Frog’s Leap, Hewett/ Provenance, Mumm Napa, Peju Province, Quintessa, Round Pond, Sequoia Grove (now Foley Johnson), St. Supéry, Caymus, Grgich Hills, Rubicon/Inglenook and Staglin Family

Oakville: Robert Mondavi, To Kalon, Flora Springs, Gargiulo, Groth, Miner Family, Nickel & Nickel, Oakville Ranch, PlumpJack, Rudd, Swanson, Dalla Valle, Harlan Estate/BOND, Opus One, Far Niente and Screaming Eagle

Stags Leap: Stag’s Leap, Chimney Rock, Cliff Lede, Clos du Val, Hartwell, Ilsley, Pine Ridge, Quixote, Robert Sinskey, Silverado and Shafer

Yountville: Domaine Chandon, Blackbird, Goosecross, Hill Family, Jessup, Keever, Lail, Dominus and Kapcsandy Family

Oak Knoll: Trefethen, Monticello and Robert Biale

Atlas Peak: Astrale e Terra, Bialla, Elan, Vin Roc, Antica and Stagecoach

Mount Veeder: Hess Collection, Lokoya, Mount Veeder, Scaggs, Sky, Lagier Meredith and Mayacamas

Coombsville: Ancien, Buoncristiani, Caldwell, Frazier, Farella, Marita’s, Meteor, Sodaro, Whetstone and Palmaz

Chiles Valley: Brown, Green & Red, Volker Eisele and Nichelini

Other Napa Valley: Kenzo, Bryant Family, Chappellet, Colgin, Ovid and Continuum

LOS CARNEROS WINERIES
(Los Carneros crosses the Sonoma-Napa border, so some of these wineries are in those sections of the book as well):

Acacia, Bouchaine, Carneros Creek, Saintsbury, Artesa, Ceja, Gloria Ferrer, MacRostie, Schug Carneros, Truchard, Domaine Carneros, Donum Estate, Etude, HdV, Saintsbury and Buena Vista Carneros

SONOMA COUNTY WINERIES (BY DISTRICT):
Alexander Valley, Pine Valley-Cloverdale
Peak and Knights Valley: Alexander Valley Vineyards, Beringer, Jordan, Peter Michael, Robert Young, Simi, Anakota, Clos de
Bois, Geyser Peak, Hanna, Knights Bridge, Lancaster, Sausal, Stuhlmuller, Ridge, Seghesio Family, Silver Oak, Stonestreet and Captûre

Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile: Dry Creek, Pedroncelli, Bella, Carol Shelton, Dashe, Ferrari-Carano, Gallo Family, Nalle, Papapietro Perry, Sbragia Family, Unti, A. Rafanelli, Lambert Bridge, Ravenswood (Teldeschi Vineyard), Ridge Lytton Springs and Mauritson Family/Rockpile

Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Chalk Hill: Davis Bynum, Dutton Ranch, Foppiano, Joseph Swan, Korbel, J. Rochioli, Pellegrini Family, Williams Selyem, Chasseur, Copain, Dehlinger, DeLoach, DuMOL, Freeman, Gary Farrell, Iron Horse, J, Joseph Swan, Lynmar, Marimar Torres, Moshin, Rodney Strong, Alysian, Dutton-Goldfield, J. Rochioli, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Merry Edwards, Paul Hobbs and Thomas George

Sonoma Coast: Hirsch, Wild Hog, Fort
Ross, Hartford Family, Keller Estate, Lioco, Martinelli, Red Car, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Cobb, Evening Land, Failla Wines, Flowers, Freestone, Littorai, Marcassin, Peay and Benziger Family Winery’s de Coelo

Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain and Bennett Valley: Hanzell, Laurel Glen, Louis Martini Monte Rosso, Sebastiani, Arrowood, Benziger, Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood, Kunde Family, Matanzas Creek, St. Francis, Paul Hobbs (Richard Dinner Vineyard), Ravenswood, Bedrock and Sojourn

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