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Hugh Johnson: A Storied Journey through Wine and Gardens

Hugh Johnson

Hugh Eric Allan Johnson OBE is an English editor, author, journalist and a wine expert who is considered among the best-selling wine writers globally. Born on March 10, 1939, in London, Johnson’s multifaceted career spans journalism, writing, and horticulture[1]. This in-depth blog post evaluates his life, illustrious career, and enduring contributions.

Early Life and Education

Hugh Johnson’s journey into the realms of wine and gardens began with a strong educational foundation. He was born to Guy F. Johnson CBE and Grace Kittel and received his education at Rugby School. Later, he pursued English at King’s College, Cambridge, setting the stage for his future endeavors.

A Wine Epiphany

Johnson’s introduction to the world of wine was serendipitous. While at Cambridge University in the 1950s, a momentous encounter with red Burgundy sparked his lifelong fascination. His roommate, a member of the Cambridge University Wine and Food Society, presented two glasses of wine, posing the question: “Are they the same or different?[2]” This simple yet profound experience became his “Damascene moment” and set him on a path of wine exploration.

A Pioneering Career in Wine

Johnson’s writing journey commenced in 1960 when he began sharing his insights about wine. After graduating, he joinedCondé Nast Publications as a feature writer and contributed to publications such as Vogue and House & Garden. In 1962, he assumed the role of editor at Wine & Food and simultaneously became the wine correspondent for The Sunday Times. By 1967, he had become the travel editor of The Sunday Times, expanding his influence.

In 1966, Johnson published “Wine,” marking the beginning of a prolific writing career. His magnum opus, “The World Atlas of Wine” (1971), was groundbreaking—a comprehensive mapping of the world’s wine regions[3]. It was hailed as a major event in wine literature, setting new standards for wine reference.

A Renaissance in Wine and Horticulture

Hugh Johnson’s influence extended beyond writing. He became President of the Sunday Times Wine Club in 1973, a position he held for decades, contributing to Laithwaites becoming the world’s largest mail-order wine merchant. In 1986, he ventured into the wine business by joining the Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Latour as a Director. In 1990, he co-founded the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, aiming to revive the Tokaji industry after the fall of Communism.

The Hugh Johnson Collection, established in 1986, introduced wine-related artifacts, including glasses, to the Far East. The collection was a testament to his dedication to the world of wine.

Vintage: The Story of Wine
The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson | Source

In 1989, Johnson authored “Vintage: The Story of Wine,” a 500-page authoritative compendium. This remarkable work was later re-edited in 2004 as a fully illustrated edition, accompanied by a 13-part TV series for Channel 4 and Boston P.B.S[4]. Since 1977, he has been diligently compiling the annual “Pocket Wine Book,” which has sold millions of copies in multiple languages.

A Green Thumb and Arboreal Expertise

Apart from his wine exploits, Johnson has a deep-seated love for gardening. In 1973, he wrote “The International Book of Trees.” He became the Editorial Director of the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society (“The Garden”) in 1975 and penned the column “Tradescant.” “Trad’s Diary,” now in its 44th year, appears online and in Hortus magazine.

Did you know?

Johnson once said “If there’s any secret to writing, it’s thinking about the reader, not even the subject. It’s the reader that matters.”

Johnson’s publications in the realm of gardening include “The Principles of Gardening” (1979) and a rewritten edition of “Trees” in 2010. “Trad’s Diary” has been anthologized three times, highlighting his enduring commitment to horticulture.

Honors and Opinions

Hugh Johnson’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. He was selected as Decanter Man of the Year in 1995 and was honored with the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2000. In 2007, he received an OBE “for services to wine-making and horticulture.”

Notably, Johnson is a vocal opponent of assigning numerical scores to wine; a practice he believes homogenizes the industry. In his autobiography, “A Life Uncorked,” he expressed regret over Robert Parker’s influence on winemaking, stating that it has led to a more uniform and richer style in many regions.
 
In conclusion, Hugh Johnson’s life and career are a testament to his unwavering passion for wine and gardening. His pioneering work in wine literature, authoritative publications, and commitment to preserving horticultural knowledge has left an enduring legacy. As both a renowned wine writer and a green-thumbed expert, Hugh Johnson’s journey continues to inspire and educate wine and garden enthusiasts worldwide.

Links to wineries represented by Hugh Johnson

Read More:

References:

[1] https://myastro.com/myastropedia/hugh-johnson-wine-writer

[2] https://www.steno.fm/show/e759a98f-9576-545a-95f0-76c9080327b9

[3]
Hugh Johnson Pocket, “Wine 2022: The new edition of the no 1 best-selling wine guide Hardcover ,”

[4]
McMahon, Benjamin, “‘The Amateurs’: Noble Rot meets legendary wine writer Hugh Johnson,” (March 2015) https://noblerot.co.uk/post/the-amateurs

Want to read more? Try these books!

Vogue Living- Houses, Gardens, People- Houses, Gardens, People Hugh Johnson's the Story of Wine 

Bibliography

Hugh Johnson Pocket, “Wine 2022: The new edition of the no 1 best-selling wine guide Hardcover,” (September 9, 2021), https://www.amazon.com/Hugh-Johnson-Pocket-Wine-2022/dp/1784726885

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