Hugh Johnson’s Wine Life

Hugh Johnson
(Credit: food.uk.msn.com)

From his groundbreaking 1966 book “Wine,” to “The World Atlas of Wine” and the hugely successful “Pocket Wine Book,” Hugh Johnson, 74, is one of the world’s best-selling wine writers. He is equally well-known in gardening circles for his work in that field. “Were I to wear a hat, I would doff it in admiration,” Steven Spurrier said, when he heard Johnson had been awarded the OBE in 2007.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a Londoner, born in St John’s Wood. I was exiled to Scotland by the Blitz, and then we moved and most of my childhood was spent on the North Downs in Kent – now a famous wine area. My father was a barrister and my mother was half German, which has always given me a fellow feeling with the Germans. I always loved going there – and of course I’m notorious for loving riesling.

My grandfather was actually interned during the First World War, which was traumatic for my mother and her sisters: there’s a letter from my mother, aged 10 or 12, saying ‘You can’t do this to Daddy!’

What drew you into wine?

When I went to Cambridge, I shared rooms with a chap called Adrian Cowell who was a very good taster. He then wasted his life – he became a stockbroker. He came back after a dinner one night with two red Burgundies. I was astonished that two wines could be so different – one could bring such pleasure and one could be uninteresting. He said, ‘Do you realize these come from the same village, two fields apart?’ I was amazed. You could call that the origin of ‘The World Atlas of Wine.’