Hugh Johnson’s Wine Life

Hugh Johnson

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.’