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Bertil Jean-Chronberg: Bonde Fine Wine's Artisan Curator

By Courtesy of Zach Galasso
By Thomas A. Ferro, Contributing Writer

On a quiet street just north of central Harvard Square, Bonde Fine Wines, a carefully-curated boutique shop laid down its roots in the midst of the pandemic. Walking into the shop, lucky passersby will immediately feel at home, or, at least, intrigued, by the casual leather armchair, bar stools, vintage cassette players, and welcoming French owner, Bertil Jean-Chronberg, standing just behind the bar.

“The less experience you have [with wine], the better you will find this place here,” said Jean-Chronberg, commenting on the inclusivity Bonde offers.

This is one of the many aspects of Jean-Chronberg that sets him apart from others in the wine industry. Jean-Chronberg, above all else, is devoted to wine. This passion may sound obvious, but in a world where social boundaries, prejudice, and tradition to a fault have consumed the wine industry, Jean-Chronberg is a breath of fresh air.

“Wine has always been a part of my life,” he said.

Born near the Pyrénées mountains in France, Jean-Chronberg grew up in Paris and moved to Montréal, Québec to attend university. Jean-Chronberg notes that, unlike many of their American counterparts, many French families at the time held a true appreciation and love for artisanal produce. With a family whose background is in art and viticulture, Jean-Chronberg matured with a strong belief that local artisan products should not be a luxury, but a normal part of life.

After graduating from university and receiving his masters degree, Jean-Chronberg set off on his path, always with his clear goal for the future in mind. It didn’t take him long, as Jean-Chronberg said: “I’m one of the recipients of the best sommelier award in ‘96,” awarded by the Canadian International Sommelier Competition.

Yet, even more, the celebrated sommelier continued to set himself apart from others in “le monde du vin.” Coming from a country with such devotion to their specific terroir and viticulture, Jean-Chronberg does not feel a need to overwhelm Bonde with French and other European wines. He, unlike many others, is committed to the pursuit of any and all artisanal wines and is not beholden to the country on the label or the money behind the company. Setting aside any bias towards French wines, Jean-Chronberg lives strongly by his values of promoting artisanal and local produce. So, basing himself in the United States, Jean-Chronberg proudly declares that 95% of the wines he sells are, in fact, American.

“I believe as of today, the United States has the most diversified wines and types of grapes of all other countries,” he said.

Despite his regional leanings, Jean-Chronberg is not sacrificing high-quality, European wines for the sake of local purchases, good or bad. He believes that American wines, including New England wines, have much to bring to the table. While France is committed to the past, the United States is committed to the future.

The United States, he said, is “not limited to all the old concepts and traditions and regulations of Europe.”

Without the pressure of conforming to the past, Jean-Chronberg explained that many American wineries involve experimentation, new methods, and innovation in the creation process. While some may argue that those European traditions uphold the integrity of fine wine, Jean-Chronberg believes that American wines are unique and special. Of course, Jean-Chronberg does not suggest that American wines are similar to French or Italian wines, nor do they offer the same qualities, but they certainly have their own individualized identities that are worth one’s attention.

More so, the United States’ approach to viticulture is unlike that of Europe because wine is not a necessity for Americans: It is a luxury product. According to Jean-Chronberg, many European countries expect wine with both lunch and dinner, making wine a key staple. This necessity, sadly, makes affordable wine an often mass-produced commodity in Europe. So, as Americans drink less wine more selectively, their ability to avoid mass production and focus on artisanal wineries still represents the majority in American viticulture.

“If you take a country like France, of the one hundred percent of wine that is produced, only ten percent is quality wine … in the United States, sixty percent of our produce is quality wine,” said Jean-Chronberg.

However, the sommelier does admit some foreign exceptions to his collections. In addition to a couple bottles of very fine French wine on the shelves, Jean-Chronberg will also occasionally feature a foreign bottle of wine to make a political statement. For example, Jean-Chronberg currently features fine wine from Ukraine, bringing attention to the country through their viticulture.

While it can be easy to adhere only to clear categories, Jean-Chronberg notes that one still cannot recognize wines as simply American, or French, or Italian: Wines are distinctive, intimate creations. This individualized sense of wine is a major part of Jean-Chronberg’s philosophy. A concept he invented, he asserts that each barrel of wine sold by a vineyard, when artisanal, is individual and unique. Like books, no two wines are the same, even when written by the same author. This concept highlights wine producers as artists, as artisans, who breathe life into their art.

Jean-Chronberg says, “It’s another palette, it’s another approach, it’s another level of wine.”

On top of this, an underlying theme of Bonde is to connect and strengthen the community through wine, hence the name: Bonde. Jean-Chronberg said “the complex structure of humans being in a group does not exist anymore,” noting that with an overconsumption of screens and technology in the modern generations, many people have lost touch with their communities. Yet, with wine, people can come together and appreciate a simple pleasure. At Bonde, organized tastings and private events are therefore an integral part of Jean-Chronberg’s mission.

“Bonde is a culture, it’s a culture of simple space,” he said.

Bonde, arguably the antithesis of mass production, is exclusively a gallery for artisan wines. Among many other aspects, Jean-Chronberg believes that true artisanal wines should be organic, environmentally friendly, and economically responsible.

“I believe a real winemaker will never need to be a millionaire or billionaire because they are artists and artisans,” said Jean-Chronberg. “They invest to be better.”

Winemakers are artists, there’s no doubt about that, and Jean-Chronberg takes the role of custodian and patron for this art, using Bonde as a platform of awareness. “If a wine is here, it is because it is special… The wine is quality… They have a big soul, they fight for what they’re doing,” said Jean-Chronberg.

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