My hubby, Ben is an angel. Not many people would put up with their partners spending holidays meeting winemakers and viticulturists, talking about yeast cultures and canopy management and even fewer loved ones would be persuaded to be dragged along to visit wineries instead of well-deserved lie-ins and beach tranquillity. Well, my hubby has been doing just that for the last two years and the recent three-week trip in Australia was the ultimate proof of what a lucky wifey I am.
Being an MW student practically means you are married to the wine industry. From the initial “I do” you breathe wine for better, for worse, in sickness, in health. Holidays are no exception. This time we travelled across five wine regions (Tasmania, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River, Mount Barker) visited close to 30 wineries and sipped through hundreds of wines. And we are still happily married, I hasten to add.
Let me be absolutely clear about one thing – Australian wine rocks! We were instantly struck by the infectious passion for food and wine here. From delicately roasted, nutty and frothy flat whites wherever you go (from petrol stations to your ordinary corner cafés), the high standard of locally produced ingredients to a sheer stubbornness to create the best possible wines. Melbourne in particular is a true gastronomic destination, full of quirky wine bars and gourmet bistros (see below for our recommendations).
Australian wine producers are very proud of their hard craft and so they should be. What we liked the most is that many are not afraid to have fun, innovate and diversify. They understand the importance of giving people want they actually want. At the same time, many are proud of their land and are realising the regional potential and creating their own distinctive style of wines. It is common sense that is driving winemaking and viticultural decisions here rather than regulations and chasing after specific certifications.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, Hobart in Tasmania with its cool Southern Ocean influence and latitude similar to Nelson in NZ is showing great potential for early-ripening Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and not only for the production of premium sparkling wines. No wonder Penfolds are sourcing Chardonnay grapes for their Yattarna in Derwent Valley and Shaw & Smith are growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Coal River Valley for their new premium label Tolpuddle.
However, the 2014 vintage will see a very small harvest. Talking to Andrew Hanigan and John Schuts of Derwent Estate and Stefano Lubiano, they all predict a significant loss of yield due to windy and rainy weather during flowering and fruit set. Luckily, the quality of the remaining fruit is bound to be exceptional.
This year’s harvest in Yarra Valley is very similar to Tassie. Timo Mayer and Andrew Marks of Gembrook Hill Vineyard in Upper Yarra had their yield reduced from 40hl/ha to 25hl/ha due to low fruit set. The loss of crop of up to 50% has particularly affected early ripening Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Mornington Peninsula seemed to be affected even more. Lindsay McCall of Paringa Estate and Ten Minutes by Tractor reported only one third of their normal harvest. We saw a noticeable millerandage on Chardonnay grapes at Moorooduc Estate. Luckily, Richard McIntyre uses Mendoza clones, which he believes still achieve good quality crop.
In fact the harvest was so small that Mac Forbes in Yarra Valley was done and dusted by the 3rd of March. Similarly, when we arrived to Gembrook we were greeted with a generous glass of Andrew’s gin (called The Melbourne Gin Company) instead of traditional tank and barrel sampling. Ben was particularly pleased about this outcome as trying half fermented cloudy juice and then trying skilfully to spit it in a gutter is not exactly his forte.
When leaving Healesville I could only reflect upon the change in wine styles I saw compared to my last visit 4 years ago. The intense ripe fruit and opulence was already being replaced with lean and elegant styles then but it is now reaching a point of subtlety and restraint that is reminiscent of Burgundy. Noticeable acidity and reductive character is the trend now but I did wonder whether some producers have gone too far with earlier picking, stressed ferments, blocked malos and pH & oxygen management. All these tricks are making it an absolute nightmare when trying to pinpoint wines during blind tastings.
But the overall quality is high and I must agree with David Gleave MW of Liberty Wines when he predicts that it is the premium regional offering that will pick up strength in the years to come, and not only in the UK.
Many old snobs argue that the New World cannot produce minerality in wines. Well I would suggest them trying David Bicknell’s 2012 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Yarra Valley (Oakridge), Dom Valentine’s 2012 Valere Riesling (Crisp Wines) from Long Gully Road vineyard or Gary Gills’ 2012 Beechworth Syrah (Jamsheed). It is when we tasted (drank would be more appropriate) wines like these that Ben started to realise that this wine tour disguised as a holiday is not that bad after all.
The willingness to spit lessened significantly after a delicious lunch at Ten Minutes by Tractor. This classy joint in the heart of Mornington was a perfect watering hole and an oasis of calmness and exceptional food. Despite the initial stiffness of this place, the head sommelier and the other waitresses took a shine (possibly pity) to our unpretentious outfits and geeky enthusiasm over their extensive wine list. It was also time to make Ben happy and a couple of glasses of 10XTractor Chardonnay 2007 did the trick, knowing that we have more wineries to visit and more knowledge to absorb in Mornington.
If you ever wanted to learn more about vine grafting and clonal selection but lack an affinity to books about viticulture, like me, then meeting Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc Estate is your best bet. His vineyards are a wealth of carefully selected Pinot Noir clones (some grafted onto original plantings) from the most widely planted MV6 (originally brought here by James Busby), Davis clones selected for their high yields to some of the best Dijon clones 777, 114 and 115. Indeed, Richard spends much of his time in the vineyards and also found a handy and so far successful way of dealing with Eutypa disease (which according to Dr Richard Smart could become as disastrous and widely spread as phylloxera once was).
Moorooduc wines are very unique. Chardonnays are lean and elegant as they are picked early and only about 50% undergoes malo. The Pinot Noirs have distinctive blood orange, anise and wild strawberry perfume. And if you appreciate whole bunch perfumed style, like Ben as it turned out, then try Richard’s 100% McIntyre vineyard 100% whole bunch Shiraz.
Next stop, Margaret River in Western Australia. The most exciting about this region is the sense of change to come. The investment from Perth and the mining industry focussed on Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe has already reflected in rising wine quality and smartly equipped cellar doors.
Despite being so far away from anywhere else, 3,5 hours drive from the most remote city in the world Perth, this place is full of potential. For Bordeaux blends in particular. The ideal soil combination of shallow red sandy and granite loam full of oxidised iron and gravels perfect for drainage and clay subsoil ensuring rainfall retention is not that dissimilar to Medoc. Sustainable water sources are ensured thanks to remaining vegetation deterring salinity and easy access to dams. The region does not suffer annual weather extremes that are so frequent and cause such significant damage elsewhere in the world. Apart from occasional hail and the risk of bushfires, Margaret River seems to be your perfect spot for viticulture.
Much attention is also being given to clonal selection. Rob Mann of Cape Mentelle is bringing sexy back to Merlot by replanting their vineyards with more consistent high quality 181 clone whose origins can be traced to Pomerol. Rob also revealed to us his not-so-well-kept secret. He is making a very intriguing white wine from the first truly Australian grape variety – Cygne Blanc. This extremely rare grape, a seedling of Cabernet Sauvignon, was first discovered 25 years ago in Western Australia and kept under wraps until now. It is reminiscent of its grandparent Sauvignon Blanc with its herbal and floral perfume and has delicacy and waxy notes of Semillon.
To finish off our trip in style, we were treated to a relaxed and private tasting and lunch with the very charismatic Vanya Cullen. As we sipped through her delicious Chardonnays and Cabernets we reflected on our Australian adventure. It has left us super excited about all things Australian. Furthermore, thanks to everyone’s openness and friendly attitude I have gained so much invaluable information that I hope will help me during those 4 crucial days in June.
Delicious Places To Drink & Dine
Speakeasy Bistro in Bondi Beach (with only 5 tables this is the cosiest place, hidden away behind the main tourist promenade – simple yet flavoursome and fresh small dishes will get your taste buds tingling)
Café Sydney at Circular Quay (must book)
The Town Mouse Restaurant on Drummond Street (relaxed high class drinking and dining)
Harry&Frankie at Port Melbourne (shop/ wine bar with $15 flat corkage for any wines – heaven for wine geeks)
Innocent Bystander at Healesville (your perfect chill-out place in the heart of Yarra – everything here is locally brewed, fermented, toasted, baked or churned)
Healesville Hotel & Restaurant (great place to stay and dine)
Ten Minutes by Tractor Restaurant in Mornington Peninsula (outstanding high quality, well-crafted dishes worth the pennies (not cheap) and a wine list you could spend hours admiring)
Sidecar Bar at Hobart (a cosy natural wine bar in the city also offering simple yet tasty snacks)
Garagistes Restaurant at Hobart (ever-changing five course dining with matching Sake or a choice of organic, biodynamic or natural wines from round the world)
The Source Restaurant at Mona in Hobart (modern French cuisine + fantastic wine list) – the modern art museum is amazing
Smolt at Hobart (great food but service could have been more attentive)
Settlers Tavern in the centre of Margaret River (Spectator awarded this place World’s Best Wine List and rightly so – you can buy wines here that you will not find anywhere else thanks to hard work by the owners – Karen and Rob)
Leeuwin Restaurant in Margaret River (must-visit for lunch)
Cullen Restaurant in Margaret River (great for biodynamic produce and tranquillity)
Gnarabar Pub in Margaret River (simple pub but with a great location and some huge portions)
Maleeya’s Thai Café in Mount Barker (this place may not sound much but we had the most authentic and tasty Thai food outside Thailand – tucked away in the middle of nowhere this place is a real treat – many of the ingredients are grown and farmed on the premises)
Raats Bar at Middleton Beach, Albany
Wines worth trying
Moorilla Estate (not in the UK)
Derwent Estate (not in the UK)
Pooley Wines (not in the UK)
Stefano Lubiana Wines – Whirly Wine
Shaw & Smith Tolpuddle Vineyard – Liberty Wines
Gembrook Hill Vineyard (not in the UK)
Timo Mayer – Les Caves de Pyrene
Mac Forbes – Clark Foyster
Luke Lambert – Les Caves de Pyrene
Innocent Bystander – Liberty Wines
Oakridge – Matthew Clark
Jamsheed – Indigo Wines
Yabby Lake – Swig Wines
Moorooduc Estate – Coe Vintners
Ten Minutes by Tractor – Bancroft Wines
Ocean Eight – Hallowed Ground
Paringa Estate – Hallowed Ground
Moss Wood – Laytons
Leeuwin Estate – Domaine Direct
Cullen – Liberty Wines
Cape Mentelle – Moët Hennessy
Woodlands Wines (not in the UK)
Plantagenet – Liberty Wines
Have you seen the new Virgin America flight safety video? No? Well 6 million people did through YouTube, 430,000 shared it on Facebook and 17,000 on Twitter, in less than two weeks. All this without even stepping on a plane!
In-flight safety demonstrations are desperately boring. Few of us pay attention and even fewer find them entertaining. They have loads in common with wine talks and presentations. Finding ways to connect with people and the achieving the right tone (whether humorous or aspirational) that will resonate with them is not an easy task.
The wine trade is failing constantly while being routinely blamed for not communicating with their consumers. Frankly, this issue is not new. It has been talked about for years and not much has changed. In fact, it is as bad as ever despite all the communication tools we have available now.
Inside the trade bubble, we all seem to be quite comfortable, boasting of lavish dinners with winemakers, drooling over old vintages and eagerly discussing terroir and minerality. Just mention TCA and twitter will go ballistic. I think we have sucked the marrow out of natural wines, from both viewpoints. What’s next? I can see trunk disease or methoxypyrazines spurring animated conversations for days to come. But as soon as we are asked to engage with punters we get wobbly knees.
The biggest challenge is to see both perspective and there aren’t many so blessed. Let’s hope that John Atkinson MW is wrong in tweeting that “The geek is always a geek. He can never be transformed.”
So why is it that we have not been able to capture the audience as many other industries have done so successfully? Look at spirits for example. With their rapidly growing global consumption - by close to 9% in the last two years – they are literally changing our drinking behaviour.
This success is primarily driven by innovation, creative advertising, digital marketing and celebrity endorsement in spite of the weak global economy. The problem, as I see it, is that many wine professionals focus on changing and educating those new to wine. In fact, what we should be doing is interacting and connecting with them.
In the UK, the highest portion of wine is sold at £4-5 price bracket, the average price of bottle of wine is at £5.15 per bottle, nine in ten will be sourced from the major supermarkets and 60% will be on some type of promotion. If you want to inspire people to drink better wines, this is what you are up against, people not wanting to spend much and discounts offering the strongest incentive.
Talking to consumers at the recent London-based wine fair organised by Spirited Wines/Nicolas, it became very clear that people are just not that interested in wine. Something that Robert Joseph, the ever-controversial wine critic, has been warning us about for a while now.
So there was me equipped (optimistically) with a large-format map of Burgundy and ready with details of soil and oak management for each wine. After all, I was presenting prestigious Albert Bichot wines including Grand Cru Moutonne. As an MW student I was ready for any wine-related questions coming my way.
Well, guess how many people asked me about the Burgundy? How the wines were made? Who made them? Count the fingers on both hands and you would not be far off.
Instead, people were eager to find out about me. Now I am not a particularly exciting or interesting person but many were keen to know why I study wine and what I do. What wines I like and what wines should they buy. We talked about everything and anything – sharing our holiday experiences, comparing our top dining encounters and gossiping about the latest TV shows.
What I learned that people like to talk to wine experts but only if they make them feel comfortable and communicate on the same level in a fun and engaging way. Not trying to blow my own trumpet too much, and mainly based on the punters’ feedback and enthusiasm around my stand, I think I did ok. I guess there was that gorgeous Grand Cru that probably had something to do with it too.
To get that perfect balance between being down-to-earth yet at the same time delivering an aspirational message is a tough nut to crack. A great recent example is the Berry Bro & Rudd ad at the Telegraph. It manages to connect to the reader in a down to earth way and yet be aspirational.
“As well as the odd wine for £9,000 and quite a few wines for £90, we also sell Good Ordinary Claret for £9. It is not the greatest wine ever made, but it is a great wine for £9. For us, wine is not about the price tag, but about passing one simple test: Is it good to drink”
So clever on many different levels. It pricks the pomposity of wine with the £9 price tag but also subtly it says that BBR sell wines that are far more exclusive. It simultaneously appeals to people with a sense for value but also those who aspire to finer wine.
Despite producing less than 1% of total world wine production, New Zealand wines attract a lot of admiration from wine drinkers. Talking to Clive Donaldson, wine sourcing manager for Morrison’s, he confirms that New Zealand wines are amongst the most appreciated by their customers, offering exciting flavours and inspiring consumer confidence. It is true that the success is driven primarily by the eternal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – as it claims 85% of all NZ wine sold in the UK. But as Jancis Robinson says there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc.
New Zealand Winegrowers released their 2012 and 2013 vintages and several lucky Londoners had the chance to try over 150 wines from all regions yesterday. There was much ‘mmm’ and ‘ahhh’ around the Rieslings and Pinot Noirs and my guess would be that these two grape varieties have a particularly promising future.
About 2012 and 2013
The 2012 vintage was a very small crop year, 28% less than 2013, thanks to a very cool spring and summer which was only saved by warm dry days in April delivering the weather the grapes needed to ripen fully.
The 2013 vintage is described as “a vintage to remember” by Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “with an outstanding summer providing near perfect conditions for growing grapes”. Sir George of Villa Maria agrees “15 years of advancement in winemaking technology paired with perfect growing conditions means this year is set to exceed all previous vintages”. However, Duncan McTavish, winemaker of Man ‘O War, admits that as it was a very hot and dry year, particularly in the North Island, it will affect yields and quality.
Ones to remember:
Felton Road Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9.5% abv / RS 55 g/l / RRP £15)
Felton Road Block 1 Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9% abv / RS 65 g/l / RRP £18)
Don’t get put off by the level of residual sugar. Riesling’s vibrant acidity tricks your palate to hardly noticing its sweetness. These wines are bursting with fresh, juicy peach and tropical fruits and are very enjoyable and comforting with that delicate structure and gracefulness of Mosel Riesling.
Pegasus Bay Riesling Canterbury 2010 (12.5% abv / RS 26 g/l / RRP £16.50)
Priceless racy acidity matched with vibrant citrus orchard fruits. Reminded me of zesty orange marmalade margarita, minus tequila of course.
Brancott Estate Flight Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013 (9% abv / RS 13 g/l / RRP £10.50)
This wine is due to be launched in the UK very soon and I have a feeling it will do very well. Low & lower alcohol wines, despite their healthy credentials, tend to be boring. But not this one! Naturally low in alcohol (no reverse osmosis), it has bags of typical green grass and gooseberry fruit. Off-dry (to be technical) but I dare say the majority of casual drinker will not pick up on that and will just enjoy the fruity flavours of this crisp clean Sauvignon Blanc.
Staete Landt Viognier Rapaura, Marlborough 2012 (14% abv / RS 4.5 g/l /RRP £ 18)
Very fresh and crisp aromatic Viognier, Very enjoyable.
Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (14% abv / RRP £ 25)
Cherry cherub flavours with distinctive reduced balsamic notes and earthy spicy finish. Rather seductive and a real crowd pleaser.
Plenty of articles have been written in the last couple of days reflecting on and mainly disputing the original and rather naive Morgan Stanley piece warning us that the world is facing a wine shortage. Here is a summary of some of the more eloquent responses:
BBC – World faces global wine shortage by Morgan Stanley’s analysts Tom Kierath and Crystal Wang
Time Business & Money - How China Became the Wine World’s Most Unlikely Superpower by Kharunya Paramaguru
Reuters – There’s no global wine shortage by Felix Salmon
Wine Industry Insight – Wine shortage is bull: Here’s why by Lewis Perdue
SFGate – Experts dismiss prediction of global wine shortage by Stacy Finz
Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV) – World wine production has increased significantly in 2013 while consumption is stabilising
The Telegraph – Have no fears about a world wine shortage – the glass is still half full by Victoria Moore
Wineanorak – My take on the global wine shortage story by Jamie Goode
Jancis Robinson – The phantom global wine shortage
Decanter – Global wine shortage fears exaggerated, say analysts by Chris Mercer and Ivana Lalovic