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Friday 3 August 2012

Slew of Back-Posts (4 of 5): Some thoughts on “Authentic Wine” by J.Goode and S.Hassop

I’ve just started reading ‘Authentic Wine’ – only the Preface and Introduction so far, plus some sneaky peeks at the later chapters – and I’ve decided that I’m going to write down my thoughts and impressions on the book as I go.

I’m not really sure exactly why I want to do this, but it seems like an interesting thing to do, if only so I can come back later and read these thoughts at some point in the future. Thoughts and impressions are so fleeting and ephemeral and they disappear almost as soon as you’ve had them, and sometimes you forget you even had them in the first place; and then your opinions evolve without you even realizing it, so it’s nice to be able to go back and find them again. Well, I like to do it anyway! I’ve already noticed this sort of thing happening to me from re-reading some of my old posts from only a year or two ago.

Anyway, let me start (boringly) by saying that I like and agree with almost everything I’ve read in the Preface and Introduction. I like the idea if inserting ‘naturalness’ into a higher scheme of things, along with Terroir, Sustainable Vineyard Management, Correct Harvesting, Faults and Environmental Considerations, to create the concept of ‘Authentic Wine’. The diagram on Page 7 expresses this rather well, though of course you could tweak and rearrange, add/remove, give more/less emphasis to the items according to your own taste. I also agree that natural wines are more interesting, taste better and are more respectful of the environment. No debate there, surely? And I also agree with the vision that the wine world is becoming ever more dominated by homogenous, boring, commodity-type wines.

That’s the boring part over with! Why is it always boring if you agree with someone? Well, here’s the part I disagree with (even if only slightly):

The authors suggest that we’re at a crossroads or fork, and that there is a real choice possible of which road to take, ie on the one hand there’s the road to even more domination by homogenized, industrial, boring branded wines, and on the other hand, there’s the road to a return to an abundance of accessible interesting terroir-driven wines. Well, I agree with the ever-increasing domination of brands part of the vision, but I don’t see a crossroads or a fork; I see a six-lane super-highway with a tiny dirt-track exit ramp that the machines forgot to close off!

Call me cynical, but I don’t see why the ‘suits’ should change tack just so that there can be more interesting terroir-driven wines available. Why do I believe this?

1. Because wine industry corporations (like all other corporations) are first and foremost profit-driven. The present system works very well for them in that they make lots of profits and distribute lots of dividends to their shareholders; and this is the ‘número uno’ criterion for decision taking for corporations. Even bigger, more serious issues (like workers’ rights, environmental degradation, social upheaval caused by supermarkets, etc) don’t bother them in the least in their drive for profits, so I don’t see why a nicety, like having more terroir-driven wines, should deviate them from their present course. In fact, I don’t see why the wine industry should not keep going in the direction it’s going in, in the footsteps of the beer industry. A grim scenario, I know. But like they say in Spanish “Piensa mal y acertarás” = “Think bad thoughts, and you’ll be right” !!!

2. Because the present model works for the consumers too, for a variety of reasons: convenience shopping at the supermarket, pricing, influence of marketing/branding/labels, just not caring that much about wine, etc. It doesn’t look like that’s showing any signs of changing.

Lastly, I believe that the ‘greening’ of consumers (ie increasing awareness and concern about environmental and health issues) is a real phenomenon and a long-term zeitgeist thing that’s been happening for decades and that this is a real pressure on the wine industry, just like it is on any other industry; but I think that it’s a pressure that’s easily dealt with – wine corporations have the budget to ‘greenwash’ themselves and also to actually really reduce their environmental impact. But, IMO, that’s not going to result in more interesting terroir-driven wines being produced – just more of the same boring homogenized ones but with a smaller carbon footprint.

I hope I’m wrong about this. And I hope there’s a place for authentic, natural, terroir-driven, environmentally sustainable wines. Maybe all will be revealed in the following chapters?

Jamie Goode's blog is here

and Sam Harrop's is here

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Slew of Back-Posts (3 of 5): RAW and REAL Experiences

Well, a long time has gone by since the Natural Wine fairs in London back in May, and they’re well off the blogosphere horizon now, but I shall post this post nevertheless, even if just to fill in the large gap in this vineyard-winery-event diary-type blog that I’ve been keeping for 3 years now!

Back in May this year, I went to both RAW Fair and REAL Wine Fair.

The first reason I went to the fairs was to meet all the wine people I interact with on FB, Twitter and blogs and forums, etc! In some cases meeting up again after some time, and in other cases, devirtualizing for the first time.

The second reason was to taste and talk about as many natural wines as possible. As I may have mentioned before, here in Madrid, there’s not a single natural winebar to be found so it’s extremely difficult to taste any natural wine.

The third reason was to meet UK importers for my wines with a view to working together for the 2012 harvest.

And the fourth reason was just to get out of Madrid and Spain for a few days!

So, where to start? With the wine shipment disaster anecdote!

Photo: wine boxes ready for shipment

Yes, I screwed up big time! This was the first time I’d been to a proper wine fair, ie big event, abroad, over 3 days and for which I had to organize a shipment of a significant amount of wine. Basically, I left it too late and didn’t use a company specialized or experienced in shipping wine! To cut a long story short, my wines didn’t get to London in time for the fairs! My emergency solution was to take some bottles with me on the plane; so I packed my suitcase with 12 bottles and had to pay for the excess weight to EasyJet. So what I had to work with was: 2 bottles of each type of wine over three days!!!

In the end, it all worked out fine, because I put a sign up on my table, saying “I’ll be back”. Then I would hang out at neighbouring tables and chat with the winemakers and taste their wines, while keeping an eye on my own table. If anyone stopped there for more than 20 seconds and/or cast their gaze around the room obviously looking for me, then I would go over and attend to them. Otherwise, I kept hiding! It was hard going – at 2/3 bottle wine a day over 8 hours, but I managed!

Panoramic view of the RAW space

On the Sunday and Monday I was at RAW Fair which was held at the Old Truman Brewery. It was a great venue. I loved the ‘ ye olde worlde’ look and feel of the place, ie a nineteenth century brick building with steel beams visible! Natural light coming in from the skylights in the roof. Nice high ceilings. All these elements combined to produce a great atmosphere of space and tranquillity for me! The technical aspects were all organized perfectly and invisibly by Isabelle Legeron and her team, and I still can’t think of anything to complain about!!! I really enjoyed the talks and presentations, and I sneaked away from my table on many occasions to listen to the speakers. The food stalls provided were awesome and (I must confess) totally unexpected as I’d resigned myself to putting up with ‘English’ food for a few days, never having had any happy memories of it in the past!!! And lastly, I really liked the smoker’s corner (a little courtyard in the open air) and I hung out there quite a lot, chatting, drinking a wine that I’d picked up on my way there, and generally having a great time. I even managed to get a RAW T-shirt after pestering one of Isabelle’s helpers for two days!

Smokers corner at RAW

In the vineyard in June wearing my RAW T-shirt :)

I also went to the Georgian dinner on the Monday night. All the producers had to bring two bottles of wine, which we put in a big heap on the floor, and then as the diners entered the hall, we all chose a bottle or two to take to our table:

Wine for the Georgian dinner

On the Tuesday I was at REAL WINE fair, organized by Doug Wregg of Cave de Pyrène, and was held at Victoria House in Holborn. The venue wasn’t so grand, as it was in the basement and the ceilings were quite low. But I wasn’t bothered in the least, and the atmosphere was buzzing allday. Tuesday was a trade day so I was more focused on working and networking, as opposed to chatting and networking as I was at RAW! At the end of the day I managed to meet the UK importers that I wanted to meet, and even some other ones from Norway and Canada as an additional bonus! The food stall at REAL were also awesome, which couldn’t have been a coincidence. I wonder if this says something about the tastes and preferences of the people who drink (and make and distribute) natural wines? I got to taste many wines that I’d only read about and which I’d been looking forward to for ages. Especially Arianna Occhipinti and Thierry Puzelat, but many others too.

Photo: real wine

Photo: outside smokers

Anyway, this was all only two months ago, but it seems like a whole world away. I’m looking forward to going again next year (to both fairs, if possible, if there actually are two again, that is). And I’d like to go to some other fairs too, maybe in France or Italy. I don’t think there’s much chance of a similar natural wine fair being organized in Spain, unfortunately. I think that there are too few producers and we’re too dispersed all over the country, and (I imagine) not capable of organizing an event on such a scale. Well, I hope I’m proved wrong.

Apart from the two fairs, there were also a few sneaky wine events that I thoroughly enjoyed too. (Well, they weren’t actually technically ‘sneaky’ in the legal sense of the word, more like additional extras outwith the official schedule!)

First was a Jura tasting, organized by Wink Lorch. I’d heard about Jura wines (especially from the enthusiastic Arnold Waldstein) who is a huge fan of Jura, but I’d never actually tasted one (such is life in the wine desert known as Madrid!) and so I finally got to taste about 17 of them all at one sitting, and meet a few producers, and chat with knowledgeable winelovers! Here’s a link to a post written by Wink Lorch herself, which has lots of info on the producers.

In good company at the Jura tasting, between Jean-Etienne Pignier and Wink

Second was a Garnacha tasting, organized by Ryan and Gabriela Opaz. Or ‘Grenache’ I should say, as the wines were from France. It was held at New Cross House (in the New Cross area south of the river) which is a pub-restaurant but which also had an open-air patio through the back which we had the use of. On this occasion, though I myself was sneaky, as I sneaked in an unofficial bottle of my own Garnacha in my rucksack, and subtly and discretely (I hope) poured a few sneaky glasses. And I managed to get another T-shirt from my friend Luis Alberto J.

#winelover T-shirts

Below are all the Garnachas that were poured that night. Marlene Angelloz just sent me the list, because I couldn’t remember and I didn’t take any photos either. I have to say that I’m totally amazed that there were so many! I was convinced that there were only two!!! I spent some time chatting to one of the producers, who was English. And I had no idea that Escocés Volante’s wines were there, as I’ve been trying to taste them for years! Still without success! Maybe I’ll manage to do so this upcoming Garnacha Day in September. Here's a link to a short video from the Garnacha Day tasting last year; the sound is not good, but you can see my loud shirt!

G-Day Producers:
Chêne Bleu (Le Crestet - Ventoux FR),
Domaine de Mourchon (Côtes du Rhônes Villages Séguret FR),
Clos de Trias (Le Barroux - Ventoux FR),
La Célestière (Châteauneuf-du-Pape FR),
Les Clos Perdus (Peyriac de Mer - Côtes Catalanes Roussillon FR),
La Gramière (Saint-Quentin-La–Poterie Costières de Nimes FR),
Le Clos du Caveau (Vacqueyras FR),
Vinyes Domenech (Capçanes – Catalunya - Spain),
El Escoces Volante (Calatayud Aragon Spain),
Pares Balta (Barcelona – Catalunya Spain)

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