Tuesday, 29 November 2011

UK Wine Trade 2011

I am currently in the UK waiting for 165 cases of wine to be delivered tomorrow to a warehouse in Cirencester. I will then check the cases and split them in to different deliveries for customers in Bristol, Gloucestershire, Stratford upon Avon, Aylesbury and London. These are wines from two excellent Languedoc producers. The logistics for this order have been challenging as there are 9 different destinations for the 165 cases. One customer has been waiting too long, which I am embarrassed about, but the other customers will welcome the stock in their shops and warehouses with plenty of time to sell the wine before Christmas. I'll be doing a very similar job next week when I have another 200 cases of Bordeaux wines arriving in the UK.

The logistics are always challenging at this time of year. There is an immense pressure to get wine in the shops in time. An estimated 40% of trade is done in the last month of the year. UK consumers still know how to party.....even in the midst of a recession.
Last year England was severely hit with snow and bad weather in the crucial trading period two weeks before Christmas. This wiped out some sales and also made the actual Christmas week the most congested sales week ever.
The UK wine market is still strong. There is a diversity and vibrancy within the independent retail sector and fine dining. The problems have arisen in the 'squeezed middle', IE the chains such as Threshers, Oddbins, Bottoms Up, Peter Dominic and Wine Rack have mostly disappeared either due to faulty business models, fluctuating exchange rates or having the wrong product for the wrong clientele.
I am always optimistic, whilst also being realistic to understand that it is challenging for many people if you do not have a job or have suffered financially.

My concern is the polarisation of the UK wine trade. The supermarkets (by their scale) demand bland, uniform 'industrial' produced wine that can neatly fit in to a price promotion. The supermarkets have been great to bring people in to wine, but they channel people in to branded commodities rather than make people open their minds and explore further.
We need vibrant, quality independent merchants such as DBM Wines, Oeno Wines, Woodwinters Wines, Raffles Wines, Vin Neuf Wines, Cellar Door Wines, Adnams Wines,Lea & Sandeman and The Vineking. These are just a few (you can google their contact details). They are all run by passionate people who are keen, enthusiastic wine lovers. People who care about what they are doing and they care about the customer. These wine merchants want to engage with their customers and they want loyalty. That loyalty comes from offering quality, interesting wines. Cheers!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Canal du Midi, tree crisis.

We recently popped down the road to the lovely little village of Le Sommail to try out a restaurant that had been strongly reccomended. Le Comptoir Nature. It was a fun lunch with the family, whilst the food was local and organic and the service was very friendly, the real appeal is that the restaurant is right on the banks of the Canal du Midi.

The Domaine Delmas Cremant de Limoux was exceptional. This is a biodynamic wine from the cooler areas of the Languedoc region. Quality fizz at an affordable price.

The delightfully positioned Le Comptoir Nature restaurant.
Plenty of ducks to feed and boats to watch!

The Canal du Midi was built in the 17th Century and was designed by Pierre-Paul Riquet, a salt tax collector for Louis XIV. Monsieur Riquet dedicated his life to the construction of this incredible Canal that links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. He died in 1680 one year before the Canal was opened.

Nowadays the Canal has many barges, houseboats and fun boats. The Canal is a hive of activity in the Summer months, while holidaymakers enjoy a relaxing pace of life.

The Canal du Midi is lined with magnificent Plane trees that cast shade on to the canal, whilst also re inforcing the bank with the root network as well as reducing water evaporation.

Unfortunately in the last few years there has been an ugly, virulent, microscopic fungus called Ceratocystis Platani that has attacked the trees. This is believed to have been transmitted during the Second World War by American GI's and their sycamore ammunition boxes. This may be extremely hard to prove but nevertheless it is a great tragedy that over the next few years many of these plane trees will be cut down and the atmosphere of the tranquil Canal du Midi will be transformed. Perhaps a disease resistant tree will be planted instead.
The trees are already being marked for chopping.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wine in Paper bottles!

One of the key aspects facing all industry and business at the moment is our carbon footprint. I must admit that I drive approximately 60,000 kilometres per year and fly within Europe at least 12 times per year and further afield (Australia/South Africa/China)once a year. Modern life dictates that to do business on a global scale...even with Skype, conference calling, video links, email and texts....you need to travel and see clients. I have not assessed my carbon footprint but it would be an interesting project!
My issue that I would like to address is within the wine trade: Bottles and packaging.
I use glass bottles for all the wines that I sell from Bordeaux, Rhone and the Languedoc.
The 'established' wine drinker likes glass bottles; Whether this is through habit, custom or just through not knowing anything different. But we are in changing times and we all have a duty to address our carbon footprint and look at recycling and re using. The irony with wine is that usually a heavier bottle indicates a higher quality wine....the glass is much more expensive and therefore more money spent on packaging usually means better quality. One of the leading UK based wine journalists, Jancis Robinson has highlighted the heavy bottle issue recently.
When I see people arrive at Cave CoOperatives in the south of France with their own bottles or plastic containers and fill up direct from the pump in the wall, I can see the efficiency of recycling packaging.
It would be great to introduce this concept in to a retail environment in the UK, USA or China. The customers could buy a branded or unique wine vessel and they could re fill from a central location/store.The only issue is that we all would need to adapt, change and re think our attitude towards wine and packaging. Change can be slow, it can be costly. But if the statistics for landfill are correct we will have nowhere to store all the planets waste within a few years. With the population hitting 7 billion last month, we all need to take more responsibility.
I want to work with more wine boxes, wine pouches, wine bags and I really like this idea of a paper wine bottle. A couple of years ago I promoted the idea to restaurants buying 5 litre or 10 litre wine boxes for their house wine. The ratio of quality to duty and quality to packaging can be very good. If there is an investment in a smart carafe or decanter on each table, then the decanter can be re filled direct from the 5 litre or 10 litre box. The customer gets good quality, the restaurant can still offer a very good wine and possibly even increase their margins, but most importantly less glass is used and it is more efficient.
Innovation might mean more education. It might take time. But we need to do something urgently.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wine Future?

There has been a conference in Hong Kong which has finished today where various global wine experts have been discussing wine and the future of wine, Wine Future. Unfortunately I have not attended, but I have been picking up snippets from Twitter and several commentaries from respected wine people. Robert Parker hosted a magnificent tasting of 20 Bordeaux 2009s as well as many other tastings and chat. It seems to have been a successful event. Jancis Robinson, Jeannie Cho Lee, Kevin Zraly, Robert Joseph, Randall Grahm and many other well know wine folk all seemed to have contributed.
Last week I presented a lecture at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester in England to Wine MBA students. We discussed the global wine industry, the current state of affairs and potential opportunities. One key aspect is that nobody can predict the future. We can base our opinions and judgements on current knowledge and trends, but we do not know what the wine world will look like in 5 years time.
The respected wine journalist Stephen Spurrier apparently mentioned 3 key issues for the next 5 years:
1. Vermentino
2. Cabernet Franc
3. English Sparkling wine.

So I emailed 21 UK wine trade customers to get their feedback. These are all wholesalers and retailers of wine, so they are in contact with customers on a daily basis.
This is the question asked:
What do you think are 3 key interesting areas, grape varieties, styles for the next 12 months?
And here are a few responses:
Response 1
1. Verdicchio
2. Cabernet France especially Loire
3. Garnacha/Grenache Areas maybe Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia –anything out east! Maybe a move back to using oak on white wines too.
Response 2
Vermentino: Overrated and out of step with the leading varietals. Far too few make the grade. Cabernet Franc: Underrated – in the right hands and soils – EPIC! .
English Sparkling Wine: Very interesting but pricing needs to stay under control.
Response 3
1. Grenache – particularly Spanish
2. Portugal, principally Touriga Nacional
3. German Pinot Noir
4. Eastern Europe dominates cheap wine market Four for the price of three ! Bargain !

Response 4
1 New World Wines of Terroir.
2 How to manage greed and it’s place in the Bordeaux market place in particular.
3 Overproduction.
And the topic which I think should be discussed as a priority is ‘lying and its place in the marketing of wine’

Response 5
Its not a bad shout.(referring to Spurrier's 3 choices) But pricing of those is all high, so will not be mainstream - bit like whats happened with riesling. I would suggest those grapes that can be made to a lower alc.
1. Carmenere
2. grenache
3. English Sparkling

and a later comment from response 5: 'at a tasting with 150 consumers....Vermentino was the favourite wine!'

Response 6
Vermentino will never be big unless they get it to taste like ripe Sauvignon. It remains too sour for the modern palate, which has been bought up on the fruit bombs of NZ SB. Cabernet Franc possibly, but my knowledge is that it is very difficult grape to get right each year. English sparkling wine, Er no! It will remain a novelty.
1. Eastern European wines.
2. Pinot Gris
3. South African £10-£20 they are only just finding their feet in this area, the recent WOSA tasting showed some excellent wines.

Response 7
The problem with wine critics is that they feel they should always be writing about something new but it can take years to get this through to the general public. For instance a customer came in last week and said " I read an article in the Guardian about the "new in grape" Picpoul de Pinet.........I've been buying it from you for four years!!!)

1. yes English wines in general (keep the money at home, less air miles etc)
2 Iberian regions rather than varietals ... Douro, Duero, Rias Baixas etc
3. wines of 13% rather than 14%+

Response 8:
English fizz (I would agree)

Response 9:
Well I have to agree with 2 of those.(referring to Spurrier's original 3 choices)
Certainly rolle\Vermentino both from france and sardinia as well as cool climate southern hem. Sales have been good.
At the same time we are adding to english sparkling wines.
Cabernet franc a harder sell!

Response 10:

1: Riesling 2: Pinotage 3: Arneis

Response 11:

1: Pinot Blanc 2: Riesling 3: Pinotage

Thank you very much for everyone who replied. I welcome further comments here on the blog.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Guest Spot: Jane Anson, Decanter

Our second guest at Bella Wines blog is the charming, elegant and very interesting journalist Jane Anson. Jane is based in Bordeaux, where she writes regularly for Decanter magazine as well as contributing to the South China Morning Post and jancisrobinson.com. amongst others. Jane had a large contribution to probably the heaviest wine book ever....The Wine Opus, published October 2010 (Dorling Kindersley) and she is frequently charging about the Chateaux and listening out for the latest hot news from the key players. Jane's website New Bordeaux is well worth exploring. Her Twitter feed (@newbordeaux)is often from the library at Chateau Haut Brion or the cellars of Chateau Margaux, whilst Jane is researching her latest book.......an up to date and undoubtedly fascinating book on Bordeaux First Growths...due for publication October 2012.

So Jane, tell me why you ended up working with wine?
I came to wine through writing, rather than the other way round. I have been a journalist since I graduated - after one year teaching English for the JET programme in Tokyo (and even there I edited the JET Tokyo newspaper!). I then moved to Hong Kong and began working on newspapers and magazines until the Handover in 1997. Back in England, I did a masters in Publishing and continued working as a journalist, working as managing editor of websites as the Internet opened up. All the while, my interest in wine was growing... mainly Italian, rather than French, at first! That 'moment with wine' that all wine writers seem to have came for me in South Africa, when I visited in 1996, and interviewed one of the first black managers post-apartheid, who was then working at Spier in Stellenbosch. I realised that wine could be a subject that encompassed history, geography, politics and personality, as well of course as taste and pleasure. That was when I started to study it more seriously, first with WSET, and later other courses in Bordeaux. I moved to Bordeaux in 2003, and have been writing full time about wine ever since, so coming up to nine years now.

Was your family involved in winemaking, wine, food or restaurants?
No. My mother has always been an excellent cook, and prepared a wide variety of different types of food - even in the 70s we were eating Mexican, Chinese, Japanese etc - and we would be given some wine (and water) with our meals from a young age. But never any professional involvement.

Did you have a specific inspirational person or mentor?
When I arrived in Bordeaux, Jean Michel Cazes was one of the first winemakers to be truly open and welcoming, and armed me with various books about Bordeaux that were invaluable (such as Pijassou's Medoc). Equally Jean-Claude Berrouet, who took the time to taste with me when I first arrived, and was so generous with his time and knowledge. But I have found so many people in this industry to be inspirational, from Jancis Robinson and Jeannie Cho Lee, who both work incredibly hard and have enormous depth of knowledge and yet manage to maintain successful families and be thoroughly nice people, to legendary winemakers such as Charles Chevallier, Peter Gago and Jean-Claude Berrouet. You taste some of their wines and are just in awe.

You live in and have written extensively about Bordeaux, which relies on a classification system mainly from 1855 and operates a multi layered (often criticised) archaic distribution system. In 2011 who do you think embraces modern technology, social media and communication the best in Bordeaux?
Increasingly, Bdx chateaux are getting to grips with the possibilities of new technology (although far too many still never answer emails). Some of the best I would say are Chateau Palmer, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Coutet (particularly on twitter) and a smaller property called Chateau de la Vielle Chapelle.

Who is the best female/male winemaker currently working?
Difficult to say, particularly if you leave to one side the recognised, world-famous talents I mentioned above (Chevallier, Berrouet, Gago). Personally I am always excited by the Domaine Brana wines from Irouleguy, and think Etienne Brana makes wonderful things happen with the cabernet franc grape. Same grape, but up in the Loire, I love Gerald Vallee at Domaine de la Cotellaraie. For Loire whites, which I also love, I am closely following the work of Eric Morgat at Domaine Eric Morgat (formerly Ch de Breuil). And here in Bordeaux, turning out brilliant wine each year in a quiet manner, I would have to say Jean-Philippe Janoueix over in Saint Emilion. And lastly, there is some brilliant white winemaking going on in Pessac Leognan - an area which still doesn't get the recognition it deserves for throughly grown-up, classy white wines.

In your opinion which wine journalist (global) is the most interesting to read and which wine journalist has the most power?
I always love reading both Jancis Robinson and Andrew Jefford. Clearly Parker still wields enormous influence. And I hope I can add that the best wine news is clearly on decanter.com!!

Which vinous area is the NEXT BIG THING?
Plenty of Spanish regions are still 'up and coming', producing wonderful wines, and we too often forget about Eastern Europe, particularly Croatia's Istrian region and Slovenia, along the border with Austria. But France is my speciality, and I would say Beaujolais is ripe for another look, especially the 2009/2010 vintages (and I hear 2011 was another success, although haven't tasted any yet). Plenty of wine writers already know about the excellent quality coming out of the Villages, but too many consumers will still suppress a smirk when you say you like Beaujolais wine. Producers such as Potel-Aviron, Villa Ponciago and Jean-Marc Burgaud are all worth looking out for.

Thank you Jane Anson.
If anyone would like to pre order Jane's forthcoming book on Bordeaux First Growths, or if you would like to stock this book as a retailer/re seller, please contact me and I will pass on information.

Wine Cave CoOperatives

I made my first wine at a Cave CoOperative in Saint Emilion over 20 years ago. The Cave CoOps were built up in the 1920s and 1930s when it was a difficult economic time....has much changed!?
The idea is to share wine making equipment and tanks and for the many thousands of smaller growers to be able to have somewhere to make their wines.
Many of the CoOps in the south of France are merging or closing down. They are trying to be more efficient and reducing their production costs and driving a harder economy of scale. This makes sense for reducing costs, but does not necessarily improve quality.
Jane Anson wrote about the changing face of Bordeaux Cave CoOps in Decanter magazine here.
Cave CoOps offer some great value and interesting wines. Soemtimes they are the mainstay of the village and the real heart of the community. It is a frequent sight to see someone walk in to the local CoOp in the Languedoc with an empty 2 litre plastic bottle of Evian and fill it up with Rose from the 'petrol pump' like tap on the wall. The price paid per litre.......75 cents!!!
Like all business in this recession and financial crisis CoOps have to shake up, wake up and become more efficient.
If more and more of them close down in the south of France one of the lasting tragedies will be the amazing architectural buildings, which will be left behind and abandoned.