Israel – a land of wine and fragile coexistence

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.29.58 Israel may not be your obvious holiday destination but I found it one of the most fascinating and emotive places to visit. The reliable sunshine, long natural sandy beaches and warm Mediterranean Sea may sound like a holiday paradise but the land and its people are tension-ridden.

Easyjet now fly from London Luton to Tel Aviv directly so you can be dipping your flat bread into an authentic humus in just over 5 hours. But you had better save up as being a tourist here is an expensive game. In some places this is totally justifiable and worth it. Mahane Yehuda (twin restaurant of London-based Palomar) in Jerusalem is undoubtedly the best meal in Israel.

The best way to travel round is by car. The heat can be unbearable even as late as in October so air-conditioning is essential if you want to stay cool. There are few buses and a new metro network is being built in Tel Aviv but apart from that currently there is a noticeable lack of local transport. Everyone drives everywhere, like in America. And most drive scarily fast and furious, no kidding.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.33.50A trip to Jerusalem is a must. The highlight for me were the Western Wall Tunnels whose 2,000-year-old stones have witnessed the Jewish people’s struggle, exile and birth as a new nation. This is the most important site for the Jews and others worldwide as it is the closest to the Holy of Hollies where the world & the first human Adam was created. Hundreds of Jewish men and women come to pray at the exposed outdoor part of the Western Wall. The intensity of the prayers and their devotion was an utterly moving experience.

As you continue, this captivating tour takes you through the stormy history of Jerusalem where each society fought for its life and future creating layer after layer of a religious significance. At the end, you have an option of exiting at the Via Dolorosa, the famous street where Jesus walked on to his crucification. Barely a stone thrown away, we found ourselves walking through the traditional Arab market, while being somewhat aggressively encouraged to part with our cash for small trinkets. There are three strongly rooted religions here that are constantly challenged by their extraordinary fragile coexistence.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.40.11I guess the Dead Sea would be the next must place to visit for many but we only managed to drive past the shores while driving on the way to Masada. Mind you the thought of coaches-full of people coming to the sea to cure their eczema somewhat puts me off the whole floating experience. But it was a pretty unusual experience to see the altitude drop down below sea level as you drive towards the shoreline.

Being winey sorts, we also headed for Judean Hills and Galilee. Together with the Golan Heights these are the three most important vine-growing regions in Israel. The combination of a rather fertile thin topsoil of Terra Rossa with limestone bedrock and hot Mediterranean climate with low summer rainfall bring many challenges to making wine. On the other hand, thanks to the heat and dryness, the vineyards are relatively disease free apart from the noticeable spread of leaf-roll that so far has meant none of the vineyards have been made organic or biodynamic. Many international and a few Mediterranean grape varieties are planted but none have yet been established as Israel’s wine “signature”. Maybe the recent research into indigenous varieties may offer a direction and put Israeli wine on the world wine map.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.42.58Domaine du Castel winery, established in 1990’s in Judean Hills as the first boutique winery with a focus on quality, is one of the most popular amongst the locals. Tasting through their selection, the appeal of heavily oaked character and blockbuster richness and extraction is obvious even if not everyone’s taste.

Virtually all medium to large wineries are kosher. This means that the winemakers are not allowed to touch grapes as soon as they are crushed. This however does not mean that the wines’ quality suffers. There are also few talented and entrepreneurial independent winemakers, such as my friend Ido Lewinsohn who is a winemaker for the famous Recanati but also makes his own wine Garage de Papa, literally in his dad’s garage. Despite the confined space, Ido’s wines are truly inspirational and magical.

Vineyards are usually situated far from their wineries, which brings many challenges in itself especially during the harvest. Planning rules class wine as an industrial product, so wineries are only permitted in industrial areas. One exception is Amphora, which has managed to establish a stunning stone walled winery along with a boutique visitor centre in Carmel region. Thanks to Michel Rolland’s influence here, the wines are amongst the most premium in Israel.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.45.22When going out, the wines from Tzora, Sphera, Recanati, Flam, Shvo and Clos de Gat are all worth trying. Tel Aviv has its measure of trendy bars and lively nightlife. The Brut wine bar has a modest but impressive selection of local and international wines. For vibrant atmosphere head to Vicki Christina, a chic tapas wine bar located at The Station. And for people watching and a relaxing lunch, head to Kitchen Market located in the heart of Tel Aviv port.

Israel is a young country with a very long history. It is thanks to the ambition of the people here that this country thrives. At the same time, it is this ambition that brings the tension. Despite the many challenges that people face here, and no sign of a solution or the prospect of any tranquillity, I was glad to dip my toes here and to meet the wonderful Ido, Adi, Eran and their friends, even if so very briefly.

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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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London craft beers on tap

IMG_6260It’s late morning on Saturday and after a hearty breakfast we are off to tackle the famous London brewery crawl, the Bermondsey Beer Mile. This activity, still very much testosterone driven, is similar to a pub crawl except the challenge is to visit all five breweries running along the 1.5 mile long route south of the Thames in just 4 hours.

Although not quite as hard core as Three Peak Challenge, planning is crucial. Carbs and protein lined stomach, comfortable shoes and plenty of water reserves are highly recommended. And if you want to look the part, skinny jeans, pointy shoes and Ray Ban sunglasses would be perfect.

Undertaking this a second time, I believe the best option is to start at Fourpure. Arriving at 12.30pm and it is packed already with stag parties, hipsters clutching to their pints and a few tourists but let that not put you off. The vibe is friendly and no matter how full the tables are there is always a spot to squeeze your butt.


22 Bermondsey Trading Estate, Rotherhide New Road, SE16 3LL

Taproom opens every Saturday 11m – 5pm

What to drink:

Skyline American Wheat Ale (4.8%) – 60% pale ale/ 40% wheat ale – American Galaxy hops – bready yeasty fresh taste with typical zesty touch of ripe lemon

London Beer City – Pacific pale Ale (4.3%) – bone dry, sour, thirst-quenching, light hoppy taste with floral summery feel
IMG_6253Amber Ale (5.1%) – Willamette hops – light, dry style, toasty, nutty with tropical and spicy notes, malty almost brandy like edge

Pilsner (4.7%) – stylish classic golden lager

Session IPA (4.2%) – my favourite session beer, just perfect balance between plenty of flavours yet being refreshing and satisfying
As of 5 September, Kernel no longer serve beer to drink at the brewery. Their popularity has meant that their space just could not accommodate all the beer enthusiasts. I agree with their decision as our experience of 20 minutes waiting for a drink in a humid sweaty dome seemed rather pointless. I truly hope that the plans to create a more suitable space will happen soon as their extensive range of IPAs and Pale Ales rock.


Arch 11, Dockley Industrial Estate, SE16 3SF

Taproom closed (temporarily)

What to drink:

Table Beer (3.1%) – the alcohol level ranges from 2.9-3.3% depending on the batch, the best example of low alcohol ale without compromising any of its hoppy flavours, my favourite lunch beer

Export Stout (7.1%) – rich dark chocolate, malty, almost caramel-like thickness with burnt espresso bitterness and sweet touch

Partizan beers are easily noticeable and memorable thanks to their unique artwork (courtesy of Alec Doherty) and ever changing American hop varieties for the IPAs and Pale Ales. They also offer Saisons galore if you like that bone dry sour style using some cool flavours such as Lemongrass, Lemon and Thyme, Raspberry and Lemon, Nelson etc.


8 Almond Street, SE16 3LR

Taproom opens every Saturday 11am – 5pm

What to drink:

Pale Ale Cascade, Chinook, Apollo, Willamette (4.5%) – edgy hoppy with zesty twist, fresh oranges, honeydew melon, candied fruits

IPA Mandarina Bavaria (4.5%) – tropical citrusy lift with ripe tangerines and oranges, sweet fruity flavours mingling with bitter hoppy herbal notes

Negroni Saison (6.5%) – was launch in August and unbelievably I have not tried it yet but I have a feeling it will be worth it…


79 Enid Street, SE16 3RA

Taproom opens every Saturday 10am – 5pm

What to drink:

Black IPA Yakima Valley (6.1%) – Amarillo, Chinook & Simcoe hops – dark chocolate, malty, sweet coffee, roasted walnuts, spicy

Barrel Aged Traditional Porter (8.5%) – aged in Jim Beam whiskey barrels – incredible intensity and concentration of rich bourbon, burnt caramel, roasted espresso and long strong finish

White IPA Citra Motueka (7%) – bitter grapefruit and lime with creamy bready hoppy mouth feel, very refreshing and satisfying, my favourite white IPA

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 12.25.17ANSPACH & HOBDAY

118 Druid Street, SE1 2HH

Taproom opens every Friday 5 – 9.30pm & Saturday 11am – 5.30pm & Sunday 12 – 5pm

What to drink:

The Smoked Brown (6%) – smoky, almost meaty style, malty and sweetly oaky finish

Table Porter (2.8%) – smooth light dark coffee notes, offers bags of flavours despite such low alcohol level

By the time the last drop of beautifully rich and complex Anspach & Hobday Porter was savoured, we were ready for more food. I highly recommend Jose Pizzaro – a sherry and tapas bar on Bermondsey Street.

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Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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My favourites in NW1, NW3 and NW5

Michael Nadra – 42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JDScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.05.59

Best for Prix Fixe 3 courses lunch (£26) or dinner (£37) with staple favourites such as tempura of soft shell crab or steamed sea bass with prawn & chive dumplings and many seasonally changing dishes. The wine list is getting more interesting and a corkage of £20 per bottle is also offered. Ben and I love this place. It’s a short walk from Camden Town station but as it is tucked away behind the Camden Market and the Canal, it is favoured more by the locals. Be aware of their fresh bread rolls, made on the premise and so irresistible…

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.07.13Greenberry Café – 101 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8UR

If it is just a light healthy snack or breakfast, this little café is open everyday from 9am to 10pm most days. Best for blackboard lunch specials and a surprisingly good selection of grower champagnes (available when asked). A stones thrown away from Primrose Hill Park, this is the buzziest place along Regent’s Park Road. Fantastic flavoursome cooking reasonably priced despite the location.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.08.52The Little One Coffee Shop – 115 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8UR

The best coffee locally within NW1, NW3 & NW5. Using Monmouth coffee beans, their flat white is consistently unbeatable. Well at £2.60 a cup it should be. Avoid the crepes if you can and be aware it closes at 4.30pm.

IMG_6207Bottle Apostle – 172 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8XN

Bottle Apostle is much more than just a wine shop. It opened a month ago and is already attracting the local crowd thanks to its awesome worldwide wine selection and craft beers from independent UK breweries. I work here so the service is top notch, of course. We have Enomatic tasting machines so you can sip away while I refill your wine rack…

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.11.24Marine Ices – 61 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AN

Camden’s iconic ice-cream parlour with proper Italian gelatos & fruit sorbets (£2.20 per scoop) and scrumptious sundaes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 21.10.13The Gipsy Queen – 166 Malden Road, NW5 4BS

What a transformation! This pub used to be called The Bluebell and was a tired boozer stinking of bleach, sweat and garbage. In June, it was given a major facelift by the team behind The Grafton and has been transformed into a friendly gastro pub with a shiny open stainless steel kitchen and a stylish canopied garden. It has a great beer selection focussing on small independent breweries and now you can also buy refillable bottles and enjoy any of their brews at home. So far we have only tried their warm tasty sandwiches but the main menu looks equally delicious. Not cheap mind you, the classic beef burger will set you back £8.50 and Sunday roast £12-15.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.14.07The Stag – 67 Fleet Road, NW3 2QU

Our local pub prior to The Gipsy Queen re-opening. Ben and I have been coming here for years as this pub has truly versatile bottled beer selection from around the world and always has something thirst quenching and intriguing on draught. The food is honest if a bit rustic offering typical pub classics with an American twist. My favourite is their Freeman’s dip with warm flatbread and Jacobs Ladder beef rib with summer slaw for bigger appetite. Both the garden and bar get always busy so worth getting in earlier if you can.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.16.35Camden Town Brewery – 55-59 Wilkin Street, NW5 3NN

A crafty small brewery in the heart of Kentish Town and close to Camden Town, hence the name. Due to its growing success the brewery bar is now opened everyday except Mondays. The different street food stalls together with regular tours and events attract many locals. There is more to Camden Town Brewery than their most popular Hells lager and Pale Ale with regular limited releases.

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Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


Recognised as an ambassador of the Rhône Valley (July 2015)

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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


IMW student Daniela Shelton wins the 2015 Lallemand Bursary

IMW student Daniela Shelton wins the 2015 Lallemand Bursary

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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Should the use of selected microorganisms for alcoholic or malolactic fermentation be considered as additives in wines?

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 13.19.07Winemaking is a fascinating creative process whose interpretation includes both craft and a science. While the majority of winemakers aim for a balance between both philosophies, divided opinions on what extent wine production should be manipulated and controlled to produce the best wines spark highly controversial discussions. Current conventional understanding of microorganisms used in the process of alcoholic and malolactic fermentation is to classify them as processing aids, regardless whether they are indigenous or selected. Nevertheless, the natural wine movement insists that anything added (e.g. lab-bred yeasts, enzymes or bacteria) to wine should be listed as an additive and therefore be declared on the label so that consumers can make an informed choice. However, what happens when wild yeasts are selected from a specific ecosystem for their individuality and then are reproduced for the following vintages in order to achieve reliability? And would consumers really benefit from this transparency reflected on labels or would it just create further confusion?

Both winemaking techniques – alcoholic and malolactic ferment – can be either controlled by inoculation with carefully selected yeast strains (specifically Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or lactic acid bacteria (specifically Oenoccocus oeni, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc & Pediococcus) respectively. Alternatively they can be carried out spontaneously thanks to indigenous cultures. Regardless the method, the microorganisms used as catalysts are technically defined as processing aids (not additives or ingredients) as they are substances that are transient and do not remain to a significant extent in the finished contemporary wines. Both yeasts and bacteria are killed by increased alcohol level or thanks to sulphur dioxide at the end of fermentation and are then removed from the finished wine by racking and/or filtration.

The non-interventionist or natural wine argument, on the other hand, uncompromisingly asserts that foreign/selected yeasts and bacteria are additives and therefore not accepted in their unofficial codes of practice. Their argument is supported by the fact that it has been proven that different populations of wild yeast species are specific to a region/vineyard. This means that the regionally different populations of wild yeasts and other fungi produce regional flavours and wine characteristics and therefore are closely tied to expression of a specific terroir. Global research has shown that both vineyards (grape skins, vine leaves, stems, soil) and wineries (interior, barrels etc.) are heaving with microbial life. Dr Mat Goddard, senior lecturer and yeast researcher of The University of Auckland, has proven that Saccharomyces cerevisiae is unique to a place/region. He found that yeasts in West Auckland, Kumeu River share less than 0.4% of their ancestry with other international strains. Similarly, David Mills, Professor in the Departments of Food Science & Technology at the University of California at Davis, found specific microbes within California’s wine growing regions (such as Acetobacter in Central Coast, Methylobacterium in Sonoma and Lactococcus in Napa Valley) after testing over 270 ferments.

Based on these findings, only indigenous populations of yeasts and bacteria result in wine that faithfully reflects the sense of place. The clearest solution therefore would be to consider indigenous cultures as processing aids, and commercial cultures from a packet as additives as they alter the wine style despite not remaining in the finished wine. However, the issue is how to make this sufficiently clear on labels in order to provide consumers with accurate information and enable them to identify the origin and quality level of the wine. Also, consideration is required on how to avoid misleading or confusing consumers by listing extra ingredients whilst not portraying the wine yeast additions as detrimental or unfavorable in the consumer’s mind. It is thanks to the wine yeast companies (such as Lallemand, Oenobrands) and their ongoing investment that the risk of stuck ferments, the formation of undesired characteristics or a high level of bacterial biogenic amines have been eliminated, and that better more consistent wines can be created.

In addition to this labeling issue, the discussion gets even more complicated as wild yeasts can and are commercially developed in order to produce the authentic effect of spontaneous ferment yet in a control way. There are some producers worldwide that select their own indigenous yeasts and reproduce the same species for the following vintage ensuring a reliable start and finish of the ferment and retaining the individuality of the place. Quinta de Azevedo in Minho, Portugal developed a yeast culture from their vineyards called QA23 which has been successful for starting and controlling fermentation. Vasse Felix in Margaret River, Australia has developed their own yeast culture for the combination of individuality and reliability and in order to create consistent aromas.

In conclusion, there is no single answer as to whether yeasts and bacteria that have been commercially selected should be considered as additives or whether they should remain to be officially classified as processing aids. There are two controversial camps of producers who present valid arguments. In addition, a new method of capturing the benefits of authenticity and control is starting to be explored thanks to new developments in viticulture and a better understanding of the microorganisms responsible for alcoholic and malolactic ferment. However, the combination of using wild microorganisms and reproducing them muddies the waters between what is a natural element and what is an additive/ingredient. Consumers may not be aware of the implications of these production methods but if labelling reflects the difference there it is likely that despite being more specific, labels will become more confusing and possibly misleading about the quality of wine. After all, regardless of the method used, both are instrumental in meeting global demand for high quality wines.

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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Essence of Champagne

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.40.20Champagne is one of the most aspirational and pleasurable drinks worldwide. It not only tickles our palates with its effervescent bubbles but its true essence lies in the way it makes us feel; it symbolises the good life. It is a delicious fizzy alcoholic beverage. It is a luxury. It is a brand. It is a unique terroir and region. It is about craftsmanship. But above all, just as Rolex stands for heroic achievement or Tiffany for love and beauty, Champagne is a symbol of celebration.

It has become indispensable in developed societies and has managed to become intertwined in our lives especially at key social moments. Whether you are toasting on New Year’s Eve, sharing a glass on holiday or christening baby or ship, Champagne is a crucial requirement. In fact, it is so popular that its demand is accompanying more diverse events, perhaps an end-of-the-week treat or a cheeky glass with your dear friends.

Magnums and other large Champagne formats have never been so popular. Their presence and image provide real a sense of theatre to an occasion. The appeal of the larger format is so strong that consumers are willing to overlook the ambitious margins in order to throw a memorable party.

The distinctive pop was once only exclusive to royalty and an affluent elite with high status but now it is a luxury that anyone can afford, although possibly not to the notable excess of Jay-Z or Winston Churchill. However, it can now be consumed anywhere and anytime. It is possibly the only alcoholic drink that can be drunk in the morning without anyone batting an eyelid. But that does not mean that it has lost its sense of luxury and exclusivity.

Thanks to its successful marketing, Champagne retains its power to make us feel special. It is a smart product that delivers emotional benefits to consumers who affiliate themselves to different brands according to the perceived value, status and what each signifies. Great brands establish their essence and emotional value in the consumer’s mind. Above all they inspire us with their mystique and history. So that when we buy a bottle of Champagne, we are being influenced subconsciously by its desirable pedigree and mastery.

The essence of Champagne cannot be captured in one glass, it is an emotional and sensual experience with exceptional story that many wish to be part of. It is one red carpet that you do not need to be a celebrity to be able to walk on.

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in France


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Is fine wine an old people’s game? If so, how does one bring the younger generation into spending their hard earned income on better bottles?

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 13.56.22Purchasing fine wine is not only expensive but it also demands a level of wine knowledge. Therefore it naturally suits those consumers that have accumulated both wealth and experience over the years. Unsurprisingly, the younger generation tends to pay less for a bottle of wine as they earn less money and lack the confidence in their choices. One way of making wine more accessible is to educate young consumers but not everyone wants to be educated, so the challenge for the wine trade is to give the new generation confidence to engage with wine in an entertaining, non-intimidating way.

Fine wine is often seen as too formal, exclusive and rather complicated and none of these traits attract younger drinkers who seek fun and inclusivity. Therefore, the challenge is not only to inspire wine drinkers to trade up but firstly to motivate young consumers to appreciate good wines. In order to get consumers to drink less but better wines the wine trade needs to build effective new marketing strategies that are focused on the consumer and their eating and drinking behaviours.

There is currently a real interest and enthusiasm in food and wine in the UK concentrated particularly in London. The explosion of gourmet establishments such as trendy bistros, coffee shops, cheese and bread specialists, pop up restaurants and wine bars has seen an exciting revolution. Wine bars such as Vinoteca, 28-50, The Remedy, Sager & Wilde offer customers an opportunity to indulge in a better choice of wines and small sharing dishes while creating a deeper social bond and building loyalty, lacking in other sectors.

Diners are not only broadening their taste horizons when eating out from hotdogs to lobsters, but they are also starting to experiment with different ways to enjoy wine. Drinking wine over ice or mixing it with fruit juices are a couple of ways that a new generation of drinkers are getting their first taste of wine.  The latest consumer trend is towards fresher lighter still and sparkling wines for their versatility and food friendly appeal. In addition, indigenous grape varieties are increasing in popularity driven by the consumer desire for provenance and authenticity. Not only tastes are changing and challenging traditional wine perceptions but also the way consumers value the shopping experience.

Wine shops like The Sampler, Bottle Apostle, Vagabond Wines and Hedonism Wines are rightly putting the consumer at the centre of their business and focussing on their emotional as much as their rational reasons for buying wine. They have managed to embrace innovation and create shopping spaces where people want to be. Using Enomatic machines people can now sample wines before their purchase. By creating relaxed areas with beautiful displays, customers can socialise and be inspired to drink better wines. The most successful retailers don’t just sell wine but offer an experience.

However, the painful truth is that a huge amount of mass-produced uninteresting wine and food is still sold through supermarkets. Consumers may be more interested in the provenance of food and wine, seeking local organic produce but the price and promotional activities are still the biggest purchasing drivers. This has resulted in miniscule margins for producers and agents but worse still a dire selection and no service for consumers. It would be too easy to just blame supermarkets who under the premise of giving consumers what they want, use bottom end wines and heavy discounts to lure people into stores. But the wine industry would really benefit more from giving consumers a clear purpose for the consumption of better wines by offering incentives and connecting with them emotionally.

Nevertheless, the UK is one of the most price-savvy markets in the world. Wine consumers slot primarily into two distinctive groups. The minority who are highly involved and interested in fine wines, and a large group of consumers unwilling to spend more than £4-5 per bottle (according to the UK Wine Market Landscape Report by Wine Intelligence carried in 2014). Over 16 million consumers buy wine in the supermarkets and despite some large retailers (such as Majestic, Oddbins etc.) successfully selling more premium wines, the majority of wine is still sold at £4. The average price per bottle has increased to £5.34 but this figure provides a false perception of people trading up. When you consider the duty increase by 46% in the last five years the real price of wine has in fact fallen in recent years. As Tim Atkin MW put it bluntly “a lot of people are still drinking wine that is mediocre or worse.”

Despite all the challenges, there are many opportunities that the wine trade can embrace in order to engage with young consumers. Strategic use of social networking where consumers are encouraged to like, review or recommend on a wine online is one of them. The new generation is technology savvy and this trait sets them apart from previous generations. They spend 108 hours per year on average browsing the internet for work and study, 77 hours a year reading news online and 71 hours a year on Twitter. Thanks to social media they can participate in conversations about wine and post and share wine photos. Whereas advertising offers a wide coverage, it is limited to one-way conversation between the brands and consumers. However, directly engaging with consumers through social media has become a fantastic two-way marketing communication tool especially for producers that are based many miles from their target market. New World producers such as those from New Zealand and Australia have proved to be natural communicators reflecting their understanding of social media and its value in engaging with consumers and the wine trade.

An online retail presence is also a great platform to attract new consumers but is still very much under utilised by wine companies. It not only offers convenience, which is often a key deal-breaker for today’s consumer, but also competitive cost, a wide range of exciting wines and fast hassle-free delivery. Whereas purchasing wine in store or restaurant can involve social risks by being embarrassed in front of friends or colleagues, buying wine online offers a more friendly and relaxing environment. It also helps less experienced consumers to search for wine in a less daunting way that assures them that the wine is good enough to share with others, instead just using price as the quality indicator.

To further battle the intimidation driven by lack of knowledge, producers can use packaging to communicate with consumers. Many young less experienced consumers rely heavily on descriptions from labels (or for that matter medals won and alcohol content). There are thousands of wines to choose from and it can be difficult for consumers to select one over another. Still many labels are as confusing as ever making it hard to gauge the quality of wine prior to purchase, even for a wine expert. Clear descriptive clues and attractive label design manages the perception of wine’s quality and drives the likelihood of purchase. Clever packaging can offer a promise of value that consumers will appreciate and a promise of something special.

Design recognition (including logo, brand symbols, patterns, colours etc.) also plays a key role in brand familiarity which is one of the most informational cues consumers use to assess wines before buying. Investing in brand image and marketing requires an entirely different approach depending on the scope and goal of brands. Whereas consistency is required for mass brands, experiences are essential for luxury brands. Many luxury brand owners have realized that the story of wine and its lifestyle projection can inspire and emotionally engage with consumer as much as the actual taste of wine.

Despite the visual appeal of a bottle and its brand familiarity, the most powerful influencer in selecting wines is a friend’s recommendation. When asked, the majority of consumers are more comfortable to ask for a recommendation from friends and family than asking questions in a store. The same factor wins when asked what would encourage consumers to trade up. Retailers have the opportunity to change consumers’ perceptions of the shopping experience by creating a more approachable atmosphere and using language that consumers understand. The wine trade also has an opportunity to create more wine events and focused tastings in order to encourage people to spread the word. Each loyal consumer has the power to play a role of an ambassador for the individual producer or brand.

Boutique wine producers may be able to learn from the recent rise in popularity of craft brewers around the world. They have much in common as they are small, independent and traditional. Neither have large financial investments yet their impact is significant. Craft breweries use experimentation with flavours and packaging to cleverly tap into the Millennial’s desire for adventure and to encourage beer drinkers to come back for more. This has resulted in the UK beer market seeing a shift in demand from lager (which has dominated the market for nearly 40 years) towards more full-flavoured beers, stronger Pale Ales and seasonal beers.

In conclusion, when communicating with the consumer, the goal should be to encourage people to make their choices on more than simply price and to experiment and try new styles. In order to make wine less intimidating, the wine trade would benefit from using familiar language that consumers understand instead of focusing on exclusivity and formality. Furthermore, the wine trade should not merely expect consumers to buy better wines but needs to offer incentives to do so. The most effective strategy to achieve this is to build on brand familiarity and loyalty, grasp the power of communicating through packaging and label design, encourage recommending and sharing of wine online and above all to offer a better shopping experience. Wine does not have to be a commodity but can be an enjoyable and social experience. Ultimately, the biggest challenge is to make good wine more recognizable, available and accessible to consumers.

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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Wine Market


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The Douro Revolution

End of harvest festivalThe Douro Valley with its dramatic and breathtaking landscapes is one of the most distinctive wine regions in the world. But that is not why this area is famous; whether you are cruising the Douro river or exploring the streets of Porto and Gaia, you are never far from being seduced by a glass of Port. Indeed, Port wine production runs through veins of Douro history, culture and even politics. It is the region’s distinguished and age-worthy Ports that enjoy a worldwide reputation. However, the recent shift to the production and marketing of characterful table wines is changing international perceptions and the reputation of what this hot, dry, remote and once barely inhabitable place can offer.

Douro DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) was one of the world’s first regulated wine regions, initiated by Marques de Pombal and created in 1756. The growing demand for its sweet, rich and opulent wines with high alcohol spurred commercial interest in fortified wines and subsequently in regulating its production by classifying the vineyards and certifying the wines. This laid the foundation for what was to become one of the most successful wine brands – Port. As shippers based in Villa Nova de Gaia started to blend and market their own brands, local table wines remained largely overlooked as it became difficult for individual producers to make and sell wine economically. Recent law changes (in 1986) brought new dynamism with many new Quintas (winegrowing estates) focused back on developing and perfecting table wines.

Of the region’s 45,700 ha of land planted with vine, close to three quarters are designed for Port production. Out of the three subzones (Baixo Corgo, Douro Superior) Cima Corgo is still the center of Port production but a search for land that is suitable for production of quality table wines (with high altitude and north facing slopes) has caused a frenzy of renovating and planting on new sites over the last decade. Thanks to considerate investment, incentives from the Portuguese government and the EU and the evolution of modern winemaking and a new generation of well-educated winemakers, Douro is undergoing an exciting change.

The economic prospects of the region are challenged by the wide gap between the relative poverty of the hundreds of small growers and the wealthy flagship Port houses. Over 40,000 individual vine growers work the majority of the land, each owning an average of 1.2 hectare giving them minimal profits. The additional challenge for the production of fine unfortified wines lies in the fact that grapes destined for Port production fetch a better price (Port grapes fetch €900 per pipe but table wine grapes only €225) and that 80% of local consumers buy wine in supermarkets under €2 a bottle, unprepared to pay premium prices. Port’s biggest challenge is the rising price of brandy in Europe (due to short harvests and the removal of an EU subsidy for the distillation of excess wine stock), forcing producers to pay an extra €14 million for the fortifying spirit in 2013, on top of a €21 million rise in 2012.

Convincing both local and international consumers of the value of wines across all price points and getting them to explore the diversity of more premium table wines is the next big step, and one that will require creativity. Angola, France and the UK are the largest export markets with the US, Brazil, Canada and China promising the highest potential for growth. Although the perception is often that Portugal is about cheap and cheerful brands such as Mateus, Lancers or Sir Cliff Richards’ Vida Nova, consumers are also starting to embrace more premium Portuguese wines. Recent figures from ViniPortugal show a remarkable value increase of 31% in 2014 UK exports (a 22% increase in volume) indicating consumers are trading up when purchasing Portuguese wines.

Douro’s producers are creating their own identity for unfortified wines. The great diversity of indigenous varieties such as Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega de Larinho, Donzelinho, Malvasia, Gouveiho (Spain’s Godello) and Bastardo, Sousão or Tinta Amarela (known as Trincadeira) is remarkable. While the majority of the wine world is focusing on growing international varieties, this challenging yet unique point of difference could make or break the Douro. Dirk Niepoort is one of the pioneers of the Douro as a source of such high quality table wines. This stubborn, highly charismatic and often controversial man has revolutionized the way the world views Portuguese wines and has successfully entered export markets that many producers can only dream of through his approach, balancing tradition with innovation.

In order to produce characterful, approachable fresh wines with good acidity and lower alcohol, the focus is on terroir and a winemaking philosophy where less is more. For example, Niepoort’s own vineyards are farmed organically and many of their growers follow the same path. There is evidence of a move from buying grapes across the region to a focus on individual sites or soils in order to drive unique styles and single block expressions. The growing shift is towards farming own vineyards and taking better care of the land, a trend that has seen a global revolution. Christian Seely is proposing to increase his vineyards by 100ha, doubling his current area with not only indigenous varieties but also a plan to experiment with Syrah, which should be suitable to local schist and granite soils.

This ongoing revolution is slowly changing the relationship between fortified and unfortified wine production in the Douro. While attention is still fixed on fortified wines, economic prospects for the region are turning towards more approachable whites and reds labeled as Douro DOC or more flexible Duriense VR (Vinho Regional). The flagship red varieties – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo), Tinta Cão, Tinta Barocca – make the best Ports but are also capable of making noteworthy unfortified wines. This adaptability and the fact that these still wines do not require ageing like Ports (either prior or post release) allow early consumption and providing commercial benefit.

In years ahead, Douro will not be a place known just for cheap fruity wines but for great wines. The outstanding diversity of indigenous varieties, the rising quality and immediately approachable and affordable styles have unique potential in both established and emerging markets. What is more important is that there are an increasing number of people – producers, wine critics, sommeliers, importers – that share the same desire to promote Douro wines. Prospects will heavily depend on whether this enthusiasm will inspire consumers to actually buy these wines in years to come. Growing value and not volume and embracing innovation and fresh thinking is the key for long-term success for the Douro.

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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Portugal


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How fair are government taxes on wine around the world?

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 00.19.37Government tax rates on wine differ significantly between countries and it is difficult and complex to accurately compare them. Different considerations and challenges such as economic, cultural, political and legal determine how taxes are applied. Whether they are fair or unfair depends on your point of view. The wine industry constantly fights to avoid increases in excise duty in order to protect their sales and profits. Producers that rely on local demand call for higher import tariffs in order to protect their domestic wine industry. Alternatively, those relying on exports call for free trade or tax rebates in order to sustain and grow their business. Consumers are principally against any type of tax. Whereas governments rely heavily on tax revenue, yet never seem to be satisfied.

There are huge differences in government taxes. For instance excise duty rates vary from €6 per bottle of wine in Norway to zero in Hong Kong. On the first glance, this significant rate difference seems unfair. Why should consumers pay so much for their favourite tipple in one country while others enjoy much lower pricing? However, comparison of taxes is complicated as the value of rates is based on different cultural, political and economic philosophies of countries. Following a period of alcohol prohibition, Norway’s high taxes are linked with strict restrictions by the government alcohol monopoly Vinmonopolet. Whereas Hong Kong, thanks to its global connectivity has had zero tax since February 2008 with a view to economic dynamism and liberalism.

However, even within the European Union where the majority of members share the same currency and similar economic goals, the excise duties vary so remarkably it can hardly be considered fair. The United Kingdom is one of the highest tax paying countries at £2.05 per bottle in comparison to traditional wine producing country such as France which only charges €0.03 per bottle. So if you buy £5 bottle of wine in the UK (being the average price), 57% is tax and about 28% is retail margin and the liquid is barely 25%, making it poor value for money for consumers. No wonder then that thousands of Brits travel across the channel every year to take advantage of the bargains in Calais.

Governments can receive a significant amount of funding through wine taxes. Some of this revenue is used to offset the cost of crimes and health damage that are related to alcohol abuse. The wine industry in the UK paid over £15 billion in duty and VAT to the government in 2010 yet the Institute of Alcohol Studies claims that alcohol related harm was estimated to cost society (England) £21 billion in the same year. This includes £3.5 billion of NHS cost, £11 billion of alcohol-related crime and £7 billion of lost productivity due to alcohol. This estimate suggests that alcohol consumption brings more financial losses then benefits to the government. However an accurate estimate of the economic cost of alcohol consumption is difficult to calculate due to the number of variables involved.

From the wine industry’s point of view, there is a danger that taxes reach a level where reduced consumption materially impacts sales and profits. In order to avoid this, the UK duty increase was postponed in 2014 (as a result of the Call Time on Duty initiative). It was estimated that action will save the industry £175 – 230 million and protect over 6,000 jobs. On the other hand, the French government (starting from a much lower base) is keen to drastically increase the tax from €0.03 to somewhere between €0.30-0.60 per bottle, estimated to bring an extra €2 billion to the state government.

Taxes vary depending on whether wine is imported or locally produced. For example in Shanghai, tax for imported wines adds 48% to the cost of a bottle compared to domestic wine which only adds 30% to its cost. This protects the local industry. However, in India, the import tax is so high (a whopping 150% of the value of the wine), that a bottle of Jacob’s Creek costs US$40. Imported wines are therefore incredibly expensive and difficult to access for an average consumers. In order to make imported wine more available and pricing more affordable, discussions about reducing the duty to 40% are underway.

In Australia the tax is the same for wines regardless whether they are imported or locally produced. Thanks to the WET rebates, New Zealand wine exports to Australia have increased by 139% since 2005 when it was introduced. This is currently causing a lot of issues for local producers despite its fairness in free trade terms. In order to protect the Australian wine industry and control overseas competition, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia is calling for Wine Equalisation Tax reform to address this issue. It is believed that the reform could earn the Australian government AU$25 million a year.

The notorious complexity of US taxes have been known to discourage wineries from trading directly to consumers. The original idea to lift restraints of the three-tier system in 37 states (including California) was to help the availability of wines produced by small and less known wineries and to promote selling wine directly to consumers. Whereas federal excise duty tax is fixed according to alcohol level, and for still wine up to 14% abv is charged at $0.21 per bottle of wine, state tax is much more complicated. Each state has its own rules and regulations, each requires different record keeping and payments. This challenging tax regime limits the number of states that wineries are prepared to work with and limits consumers’ choice of wine from other states.

Keeping tax systems simple and consistent may seem to be a good idea from administrative point of view. But when it comes to the link between taxes and the alcohol level of wine, there are some who call for more versatile tax bands. It is no coincidence that the majority of red wines do not reach an alcohol level over 15.5%. For example, in the UK still wines with alcohol between 5.5% and 15.5% are taxed the same. The result is that nearly all wines end up being taxed by the same amount which may be considered unfair. In order to encourage responsible drinking, promote lower alcohol wines and introduce fairer trading, many producers together with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association are therefore proposing a different alcohol tax band between 9% and 12% abv.

Government taxes on wine are so sensitive and impactful that their fairness and subsequent challenges or benefits are being reviewed constantly. Arguably, many governments struggle to balance fairness when applying their taxes. What some producers may view as fair trade others view as a threat to their profits and a limit to their growth. What some view as a restriction of free choice others view as beneficial control of alcohol consumption. However, what is certain is that hardly anyone believes that taxes on wines are fair to them and there will always be groups who lobby for change.

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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


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