Thursday, February 28, 2008

ABC1 Women - Look Out for Monty!

No, this is not about educated women suddenly taking an interest in golf and a certain Scottish exponent, but rather a Mr Monty Waldin - wine writer and organic (and biodynamic) cheerleader.

Channel 4 Sales (presumably their sponsorship and ad sales arm) says:

ABC1 Women [presumably this is the target audience]

"Top wine critic and author Monty Waldin has decided to put his money where his mouth is and pack it all in to make wine bio-dynamically in rural south west France. He has just over a year to achieve his dream to turn a few hectares into top selling organic wine. Once ensconced, his only company will be a donkey, visiting friends from the UK, incredulous local peasantry and occasionally, Monty's high maintenance girlfriend, Silvana who jets in from Italy."

Other than the gratuitous insertion of the term "high maintenance" (is that really necessary?) this sounds interesting. It does raise a few questions ... like who did all the hard work to actually grow the vines in the first place as you cannot simply say "Oh, I think I'll make this wine biodynamically this year".

Also, if he only has a few hectares, what does "top selling" mean? He sells more than a few bottles to his mates? Wouldn't the continued presence of C4 cameras & crew rather help that, irrespective of the quality of the wine?

Anyway, this is one I shall be on the look out for. It will be interesting to see how well they can explain the concept of biodynamic wine to the general public considering how little understood it is even by wine enthusiasts. It will hopefully make France a more attractive wine buying destination for people as well.

I have met Monty in passing and I know he will have the right sort of charm for such a series (and I think those ABC1 women will agree), so I expect this will be a fun addition to the Wine Conversation.

Thanks to Decanter for alerting me to this programme

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blogging on the road

Apologies for the silence but I am on the road at the moment, enjoying an unseasonably warm Rioja at the moment.

Just met with the Catavino crew, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, and we still have lots to discuss about the impending European Wine Bloggers' Conference. We also talked about so many other issues that make me want to sit down and get on with exploring my thoughts here. Oh well! Soon enough!

In the interim, you can also find me dropping in on some discussions on wine & technology issues on the Open Wine Consortium, a new social network for those involved in the Wine 2.0 developments. More on this soon (but you can read about it elsewhere too)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meditations on wine

I must say, there is a lot of truth in this:

20 Things About Life I've Learned From Drinking Wine

Thanks 1WineDude

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blog Awards

You may already be already aware of this, but Tom Wark at Fermentation established the American Wine Blog Awards in 2007, and nominations are now open for the 2008 awards. I think this is an excellent initiative that we should all support.

This is not a post to canvas for votes or nominations, I am pretty sure my interests are far too esoteric to appeal to appeal to a broad range of readers, but rather it is an appeal to broaden the reach of the awards themselves.

The categories are:
Best Wine Blog
Best Single Subject Wine Blog
Best Wine Review Blog
Best Wine Business Blogging
Best Winery Blog
Best Wine Podcast or Video Blog
Best Wine Blog Graphics

These awards are already very popular and generate a lot of nominations and votes, but the vast majority of these are from reades and bloggers in the USA. If you are reading my blog I assume you have at least a passing interest in wine and I know from my trusty Google Analytics account that a large percentage of you are from outside the US. If so, head on down to the awards pages and nominate your own favourite blogs from all over the world. The only provisos are that they are blogs about wine, written in English and updated regularly.

As Tom will know, I think that the term "American" in the title is misleading, but more on that another day (it seems surly to go into that now).

Let's spread the word and make this competition, including the nominations, votes and awards, even more representative of wine blog readers around the world.

Thanks Tom!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Support your local winemaker

I read an interesting post on this topic over on (unfortunately it is in Italian so not all of you may be able to read it) written by the entertaining & knowledgeable Franco Ziliani. The gist was to pick up on a campaign in the US to "support your local winemaker".

Although the initial campaign was probably intended to be about supporting local business by spending your money there, to promote 'artisan' production, and to minimise transport costs and its effects, Franco took it off into a new area - Local Collaboration.

His point, which I thought was very valid, is that winemakers should spend more time supporting each other within a region so as to establish local best practice and encourage the development (and preservation) of their own regional/local style. If everyone (and in this case he was pointing the finger at Italian winemakers, but could equally apply elsewhere) employs the same 'consultants' and 'flying winemakers' then rather than improving wine, this is just one step further towards the standardisation of styles across the regions, and the world. This is particularly important in a country like Italy with its hundreds of defined (and thousands of undefined) regions jostling for recognition, differentiation and survival, but is also common to all winemakers.

How might they do this? Well, by a strange coincidence (or not) I read a post on such a topic by the folks at La Gramiere in France. These are 'flying winemakers' only in the sense that they are Americans who have flown to France to start a new life as winemakers. Their blog is a very open and honest view of the trouble they are going through to get established (good luck, by the way!).

[While you are at it, click here to see the heartbreaking reason for the scored out name on this image]

They have just visited Chateau Rayas, a very well known producer in their general area, not just for fun but also to exchange ideas (or should I say, learn from those who have been doing it for a while longer). I'm not sure how much of this goes on on a daily basis in this or other regions, but it is the kind of activity that should be encouraged. Plus, of course, we too can learn from it through the wonderful world of blogging winemakers.

I'm sure there are plenty of winemakers willing to tell others how to run their wineries, but how many of them want to take that advice?

Thank goodness for people like Matt & Amy at la Gramiere, and also Josh at Pinotblogger who give us a glimpse of life as a winemaker, and for their willingness to share information as well as listen to others.

Support local winemakers!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A PET Glass of Wine

I read this story in the trade press some months ago, and other bloggers picked up on it too, but all we had then were pictures.

I was surprised, therefore, to stop by my local Sainsbury's Express (attached to a petrol station) and see a whole promotional shelf of these boxes.

Each box (retail £3.99) contains two 187.5ml PET glasses of wine. I thought I'd pick one up to examine the product in the interests of checking out new packaging experiments - I'll be honest and say I had low expectations on the wine, however. Am I too close-minded?

Well, the twin glass box idea is certainly innovative. A cleverly folded light cardboard box holds the two glasses that, apparently, have been designed to be near indestructible. I have not tested that point.

I chose the red. This is a South Australia Trencherman Shiraz 2004, 13.5% ABV [which also contains sulphites (who would have guessed!)]. I'd love to give you a tasting note, but as you know I don't generally do that on this site. I did consider it, but as my notes started with "overripe nose", "cooked", "past it" and "bitter finish" I probably shouldn't.

[To be fair to it, the lot number on the glass was L7185HA5 which I interpret as the 185th day of 2007 which would mean that this wine has already passed its 6 month shelf life. I have emailed the company to find out.]

So, what about the idea in principle?

The package says that the wine is:

"Perfect for picnics, BBQs, days on the beach and afternoons in the garden. Simply peel off the seal, sit back and enjoy"

Most packaging innovations claim to be about the environment as well as convenience, such as the tetrapack and the pouch. Although the glass is recyclable PET this is almost entirely aimed at the convenience market. It claims to be replicating the 'single serve' options of beer, cider, etc. with something more appropriate to wine, hence the glass.

IF I happened to be going to a picnic, and IF I chose not to have a bottle and ALSO did not have my own glasses to bring, I might like to have this option, but I somehow don't see it working.

The problem really is that as you are appealing to a cross section of wine drinkers (those who happen to want to drink wine at a picnic or BBQ) it is very difficult to do this only with one style of wine. However popular South Australian Shiraz (or Chardonnay, or rose) is, it still does not appeal to a lot of people. Also, the wine is aimed at the lower end (in terms of wine quality) to try and reach the masses, but how many people really think "I wish I had just 2 glasses of wine to take with me"?

It would be much better to sell empty picnic glasses alongside the range of wines rather than pre-filling them.

Even if it did take off, after you have bought one box, you now HAVE the wine glasses for your picnic. You don't need any more, so why continue to buy it? The idea that you might buy the glasses to re-use them is rather far-fetched.

All this, of course, is added to the fact that at 187.5ml of wine, the ratio of plastic to wine makes this packaging rather environmentally "challenged" to say the least.

I can't help feeling that this is a PET drinking vessel solution looking for a problem, rather than the other way around.

However, encouraging people to drink slightly less, and offering them something better than the standard white plastic cups used for water coolers to drink out of, must be a step in the right direction.

I look forward to how this project develops, particularly over the summer as the BBQ season kicks in.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Virtual Stormhoek

For those following the story, this link will probably be very interesting:

On the Stormhoek Trail

Many thanks to the intrepid Peter May and his fascination with Pinotage

An unusual brand, from a virtual winery ... whatever next I wonder?

Friday, February 08, 2008

More conference thoughts

Rather than duplicate them, I have posted some thoughts and comments on the idea of the European Wine Bloggers Conference (or Jamboree) on the new site.

I think in future I will leave most of my thoughts on that subject on that blog and just post links from here, but feel free to leave me comments on this site if you prefer.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stormhoek Origin and End

As was revealed today in Harpers, it seems that Origin Wine Pty, another producer from South Africa with existing international brands and strengths, will be taking over the assets of Orbital.

I can't say I know much about Origin beyond what I have read elsewhere today, so I can only hope it works out for them and for the brands, including Stormhoek (why is it that neither of these companies seems to have any web presence of their own?).

What is interesting, and sad, is that as Origin already has UK offices it will not be taking on any of the Orbital staff, so I suspect there will be some pretty big changes in the marketing of the brand. I'm pretty sure, for a start, that it means the end of Hugh MacLeod's involvement.

It is probably a sensible result for those involved, but I guess there are those of us who will be disappointed that the result was not more ... dramatic, and befitting the brand.

Let's see what Origin can do for the wine. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Eating at Alimentaria

One more quick post.

Ryan at Catavino is also planning a bloggers dinner during Alimentaria Barcelona, Spain's biggest and best food & wine show (March 10-14, 2008).

If you are a blogger, not matter what you blog about, I gather you are invited to a dinner being sponsored by Bodegas Tintoralba.

I will definitely be at the show and hope to go along to the dinner on Tuesday 11th of March. If you are planning on being there too let me know so we might hook up.

EWBC - the European Wine Bloggers Conference

The European Wine Bloggers Conference, or EWBC, 2008 now has its own site - as any self-respecting Wine2.0 related event should have, of course.

Come and take a look at:

Thanks to Ryan at Catavino for setting it up, to include a blog, a forum for discussions, places to discuss topics for consideration, wines to taste, and more.

So far there have been lots of interested comments from many different locations (including UK, France, Italy and Spain). It would be good to hear from those of you who are keen to come, even if you have not committed 100%, so that we can put together a clearer picture of the event so waverers might decide whether it was worth investing the time and money to come.

I do understand that this is a big commitment for most of us, but I do think this has the potential to change the role of the Wine Blogger in Europe dramatically, so it will be worth it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

But where is 'cool'?

I feel I really ought to clarify the term 'cool' used in my previous post in the context of the Wine Conversation.

What I had in mind was the kind of place that a person would not only want to go to, but be seen to go to, and even then talk to others about having been there. In Hugh MacLeod's terms, a wine retailing Social Marker. By the shared experience of having been to the shop, individuals would be willing and able to start their own wine conversation.

I believe that the retail experience is key because it is common to each wine consumer no matter what they choose to buy. It is also important to keep in mind that this is about the kind of wine consumer who rarely spends over £5 a bottle.

Hugh himself demonstrated the effectiveness of this by engineering the interest in one retailer, Threshers, around Christmas 2006. He used a viral email campaign to get people to talk about that retailer, who then encouraged others to go there to shop and get their discount. It certainly got a lot of people talking and shopping. Where it failed (for Threshers) was that the discussion was not about them at all, but about the discount, and once that was gone, so were the vast majority of the customers.

Friday, February 01, 2008

So where do you buy your wine?

I've been reading a fair bit recently about the change in the fortunes and the reputation of Oddbins. It made me think about where I got started with wine.

An important question came to my mind, which I believe is very important to The Wine Conversation.

"Where is it cool to buy wine?"

Plenty of places will sell you wine, but where do people WANT to go and buy it? Once upon a time, and one of the main reasons the wine culture in the UK became 'cool', that place was Oddbins. They may not have been everywhere yet, but anyone interested in wine, particularly if you were younger and wanting to know more about the wine world, would know the name ODDBINS.

It was a place to hang out and find all sorts of weird and wonderful, and just affordable, wine discoveries. Australia. Chile. South Africa. California. Exotic names and brands.

Not only were the wines available, but you could be certain that the person behind the counter, and very often not behind the counter but on the shop floor ready to talk to you, would know a great deal. They would have just tasted some "amazing new listing" that they could recommend.

My wife (girlfriend at the time of course) would know that if I went in "just to browse" I would certainly come out with a bottle of something.

Where are they, and their successors today?

Majestic is certainly one of the most successful. Their 'by the case' formula is very good for the bottom line, and profitability and confidence help to keep that success going. But 12 bottles is too much for a student or young person just starting out with wine. I was worried about spending £7, never mind £50.

I believe that when he moved to take charge of wine (amongst other things) at Tesco, Dan Jago said that his aim, and I paraphrase slightly, was to make it the kind of place even those in the wine trade would be happy to buy their wine. He has certainly overseen an interesting expansion of their range, I can't fault that. Unfortunately, I personally can't see Tesco or any supermarket being a 'cool' place to buy your wine, however good the range (he may well disagree).

Independent Merchants, small shops run by enthusiastic individuals, are certainly out there, but the market is very fragmented and their power to reach out to new consumers is limited. Many also find them quite daunting - an unknown quantity where one's own lack of knowledge might be sneered at.

Can anyone step in? Threshers seem more intent on becoming convenience stores. Nicolas' exclusive focus on French wines is insanity in the current climate.

One final alternative are the mail order and internet merchants - and here I'm mainly thinking of Direct Wines / Sunday Times Wine Club / Laithwaites / Virgin. This is a growing area for selling wine, but no-one has yet become THE place to go and buy wine. However, this is something to explore further. Many are vying to be the Amazon of wine retailing.

Maybe Oddbins will finally turn it around, who knows, but it will take a great effort, but who else is there?

So, where do you buy your wine?