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SF Chron’s wine section wins big, and Santa Barbara field notes

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Hearty congratulations to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine & Food section, and especially to wine editor Jon Bonné and food editor Miriam Morgan, for winning this year’s James Beard Foundation award for best coverage in a general interest publication.

I have followed the Chron’s wine coverage for many years, ever since I arrived in San Francisco. I still have articles and reviews I clipped in the 1980s, which I saved because they taught me so much. At one point, in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the Chron actually made the wine section a separate part of the Sunday paper, and wine fans throughout Northern California were proud. I think the Chron was the only American paper to have a standalone wine section, which it should have had, given the city’s centrality to wine country. Alas, the economy forced the paper to merge the wine and food sections together again some years ago.

I know it hasn’t been easy for the paper to sustain the expenses of a wine and food section. The Chron, which is owned by Hearst Corp., like all newspapers is under an intense financial squeeze. They had to raise subscription rates to a ridiculously high level, and believe me, this year I renewed hesitantly. But I want to read my morning Chron with my coffee and breakfast. You get what you pay for.

I look forward to reading the wine and food section every Sunday. I want to see what Jon is up to, what he’s thinking about. Half the recipes I’ve tinkered with over the years came from there. The wine section unfortunately isn’t as lengthy or meaty as it used to be, but Jon does the best he can on a limited budget, and his essays are always well-informed and written well. He is a serious scholar of wine who knows how to transmit his knowledge to his readers. Moreover, the paper’s wine recommendations are players on the sales side. Marketers tell me a good review in the Chron moves SKUs (as, I might add, a good Wine Enthusiast review does). That’s power.

The truth is that wineries still need publicity to push sales, and printed publicity remains the best kind. Print has a gravitas that online doesn’t. Even though there’s nothing staler that a day old newspaper (“Who wants yesterday’s papers?” Mick Jagger famously sang), and the Chron’s late, great columnist Herb Cane used to refer to “Friday fishwrap,” a newspaper or magazine still has greater staying power than anything online. This is why, I think, winemakers would rather meet with, and taste with, a credible print writer than an online person (unless the online person’s site is connected to a respectable print publication). It’s harder to establish yourself in print than online. Jon Bonné didn’t just arrive at the Chronicle one morning, announce “I’m here,” and get handed the wine editorship. (Come to think of it, I don’t really know what Jon’s background is. Maybe he’ll read this and provide a bio.)

* * *

I’m back from my Santa Barbara trip. It was grueling, as I was kept busy around the clock from early in the morning until well after dinner, and my hosts kept wondering how I was doing. Fine, energy-wise and palate-wise. But my throat gave out. I developed some weird form of laryngitis, a combination of an allergic reaction to Spring pollens and nonstop talking. I don’t usually talk much during the day, working alone as I do at the computer, but on a wine trip, where you’re meeting with winemakers for 12 hours a day, you talk a lot, and I just plain wore out my voicebox. I hope people didn’t mind my squeakiness. My palate was fine, even superb. The laryngitis didn’t affect my sense of taste or smell at all. Santa Barbara County is really producing such great wines. Once again, people down there told me how grateful they are that Wine Enthusiast and I pay them personal attention. Apparently not everyone does. In return, all I could do was squeak out words to the effect that it’s I who am grateful for everyone down in SBC being so nice to me. All of my reviews will appear in future issues of the magazine.

  1. Which wineries in SB did you visit?

  2. gdfo, lots! And met with many winemakers whose properties I didn’t go to.

  3. Friday. The Chron initiated a stand alone wine section, in the Friday paper, around 2002 or 2003, I believe, and it died about 5 years later. A shame. Congrats to them for this award in the face of the Chron’s bad circulation and bad marketing and other non food & wine issues affecting the paper.

  4. TomHill says:

    Yup….totally agree, Steve. JonBonne is one of the few newspaper wine columists that I never miss.
    A well deserved honor for the Chron.
    Tom

  5. LOL OK I know get the magazine. SB is great country with some very good wines.

  6. Steve — a big thanks from everyone here for the kind words about the paper and our coverage. It’s very heartening to know that folks tune back to us each week.

    On a bio, at the risk of Wikipeding myself, this may help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Bonn%C3%A9

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