The Wine Merchant issue 63

 

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The Wine Merchant issue 63

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 63, October 2017 Halloween makes our usual behaviour seem less remarkable THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS Why can’t some councils get their heads around wine dispensers? 4 comings & GOINGS Expansion for Vini Italiani, Loki and The Wine Parlour Bury St Edmunds store manager Tom Crittenden More Adnams stores to offer make-your-own gin Adnams plans to give more of its customers the liquid at the end. We label it up with the the chance to make their own gin in- name of your choice. store as it embarks on a retail expansion “It’s going really well. Customers are enjoying programme. the experience and it’s climbing the Trip The service is already available at its branch Advisor rankings in East Anglia.” in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which is fitted with The concept is likely to be rolled out to seven mini stills. Customers pay £95 to distil future Adnams Cellar & Kitchen branches that their own spirit and add a choice of botanicals are currently being scouted, though not in the in a process that takes two and a half hours and pop-up that has just opened in the centre of results in a bespoke bottle of gin. Retail chief Neil Griffin says people are given Cambridge and will trade until the New Year. Adnams spokesman Josh Wicks says gin and tonics to enjoy while they wait. He adds: “We’re quite keen on this customisation and personalisation trend that’s coming through. Cambridge is a city that the company is “obviously keen to get into”. He adds: “The popup gives us flexibility and a bit of a foothold, and “We give people a selection of botanicals then we’ll look for something more permanent. and talk them through what each one of them potentially does. They put four or five of them “It’s a busy and competitive place, but you don’t want to shy away from those places – you into the pot still and distil it down, and you get want to be in there.” 10 tried & TESTED The Dirty Dozen tasting turns up a few choice finds 16 leamington wine co The final chapter of a 20-year career as an independent 24 david williams Feats of clay in a resurgent Georgian wine industry 36 reader trip to the rhone Meeting the human dynamo that is Laure Colombo 40 focus on argentina A dozen wines that give a real flavour of the country 46 make a date It’s the last lap of this year’s tasting calendar 47 supplier Bulletin Essential updates from agents and suppliers

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BACCHUS b Can’t we dispense with the council? In 2015 when Lindsay Porter and partner Hobby Alam opened Portland Wine Warehouse in an old post office in the village of Billinge in Merseyside, they faced some objections from local residents. But neighbours were soon mollified when they realised the new venture wasn’t a grotty booze ‘n’ fags emporium but a sophisticated establishment selling a range of top-end wine and spirits. All was well until a refurbishment last Christmas which created a new tasting area with a bank of Wine Emotion machines. “We met Dan at Wine Emotion and thought it would be amazing to have this facility for our customers – we always had wine open at the weekends anyway,” says Porter. “We got planning permission to extend the shop and closed while we were doing the renovations. We put an application in for an on-licence and again we faced a lot of objections, because people thought we were turning into a wine bar. The council then said we had to either apply for a change of use, in which case they wouldn’t support us because they don’t want a drinking establishment here, or we’d have to apply for a certificate of lawful use to explain what we’re doing to allow them to make a decision as to whether that fits into an A1 retail establishment.” Facing a Catch-22 situation where she couldn’t provide the evidence for the certificate until she had the permission – projected figures and scenarios were not deemed acceptable – Porter had no choice other than to re-open the shop in order to apply for the certificate. “We opened again in March and it’s been lovely – customers absolutely love it. We have been able to show that in terms of our turnover the dispensers account for less than 6% and it just is allowing customers to sample the products,” she says. Despite the subsequent “overwhelming” support from the public, Porter says the council is still prevaricating. On applying for the certificate of lawful use there were just two objections: one anonymous, and the other from Billinge Parish Council, whose objection was based on its opinion that the interior of the shop looks like a wine bar. Porter is taking that as a compliment and a testament to the hard work the team put into making the shop an “experience” for their customers. Even though Porter has explained repeatedly that she is running a shop and not a wine bar, she has not yet had a visit from the powers that be to see the premises for themselves. “Nobody from the council has been down to have a look and see how it works, and that speaks volumes,” she says. Women broaden horizons of clients Sales from Wine Emotion dispensers account for 6% of turnover THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 2 West London’s Last Drop Wines is, by owner Andrea Viera’s own admission, strictly Old World. So how to expand her range geographically without “offending” any of her “more mature” male customers? “We made the decision that we were going to put together a celebration of wines by female winemakers,” says Viera. “They are all hand-selected; I haven’t just taken the approach of ‘oh, a woman made it, so we’ll just dump it in there’. We’ve actually tasted and tasted and tasted and put together a really great selection. Around the world I have to say that women don’t make particularly inexpensive wines, but the quality is certainly there.”

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Flying Füchs Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate Vineyards, South Africa The wines will be featured on a dedicated website under the Wines by Women brand which will launch next month. There will be additional content revealing the stories behind the various journeys the winemakers have made to reach their potential. “A lot of women ended up in wine having gone around the houses a couple of times – they’ve been up against different hurdles depending on which country they are in,” Viera says. The online offering will be refreshed often as the wines will be “drip-fed on to the site” according to variables like season or availability. The selection will include wines from, among others, Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate; Laure Colombo; Virginia Willcock of Vasse Felix; Sarah Gott of Joel Gott; Elena Walch; Susana Balbo; Saskia Prüm of SA Prüm; Alice Beaufort; and Lynn Marchive of Domaine des Malandes. Jeroboams looks for new branches Jeroboams has completed a £300,000 refurbishment programme that has unified its branding across all six stores. The most significant work took place at the flagship stores in Walton Street and Pont Street in London. Walton Street has a revamped cellar and the addition of a kitchen will pave the way for in-store events. The Pont Street store, once “a very big shop with a very low footfall”, has been converted to a smaller shop with a fine wine room at the back. Chief executive Hugh Sturges says: “It’s taking the business forward in terms of how it looks, but it’s showing the customer that it’s not just a wine shop – we have a full range of services and everything you’d expect from a wine merchant.” He adds: “It’s all about relationships. I treat the shops as the front end of the business to introduce new customers to the group, and once they are in the door we can offer them the regular shop service, if that’s what they wish, but they can also find out about finer wines, starting a cellar or storing wine with us. “We have improved our website – it’s not transactional but for us it’s more important to invest in what we do best, which is faceto-face conversation. Our focal point is the bricks and mortar because we want to sell to people by talking to people.” Sturges adds that now the “estate is looking good” the only thing he has left to do is expand – and to that end he is looking for two new sites. THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 3 “Our Man with the Facts” • Although Côte d’Or translates as “golden slope”, it is not certain that this is what was originally meant by the name. Another theory is that “Or” is simply an abbreviation of “Orient”, a reference to the eastern alignment of the famous Burgundy sub-region. • Ireland is recognised by the EU as a wine-producing country. There are vineyards near Dublin and in Kinsale. • A French medieval poet called Henri d’Andely wrote a poem called Bataille des Vins, in which King Philip Augustus of France tastes 70 wines and decides that the best of the lot comes not from his own country but from Cyprus. • Pinot Meunier takes its name from the French word for miller. This is because the leaves of its vines are usually covered in a down on their underside that resembles flour. • Irish coffee was invented by County Limerick barman Joe Sheridan, who served black coffee mixed with demerara sugar, Irish whiskey and cream to tired and cold flying boat passengers on the River Shannon.

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More of London gets a taste of Italy Vini Italiani has used crowd-funding to fuel an expansion programme that will soon double its estate size to four shops in London. The business started out in South Kensington in 2011, opening a second branch in Covent Garden in December 2015 aided by a £250,000 cash injection, raised through the equity crowd-funding website Seedrs. A third store will open in Greenwich this month, after which work will immediately start on a fourth site in South Balham. Founder and managing director Bruno Cernecca says: “We launched an investment campaign back in May and raised the money through private investors – new and existing – and we are in the process of starting a new crowd-funding campaign, but the timings for that still haven’t been defined.” He says the decision to open a wine bar inside the South Kensington store was a game changer, leading the way for the company to expand further and allow its “lifestyle concept to blossom”. He says: “We want to express the variety and quality of our wines, and how they can be offered and enjoyed, and so we try to cover the whole spectrum of the experience, from retail, to café, to wine bar. “Our South Kensington and Covent Garden sites are mainly retail, but we do have the opportunity for our guests to sit down and enjoy their wines with cold cuts, cheeses, a few warm dishes of traditional recipes … you know, the usual story for us Italians,” he says. The Greenwich site will include a dedicated fine wine cellar and an upstairs lounge for private events and parties. Cernecca says the plan is “to have five units by the end of 2018, and then assess Vini Italiani is mainly retail-focused but also has space for customers to sit and eat the results of the latest two in Greenwich and South Balham”. He adds: “We will have to see if the concept we were looking for has finally found the right location and space. Obviously we were looking for a venue in the right location and Greenwich, with its mix of residents and tourists, is a fusion between Covent Garden and South Kensington. “We are thinking about expanding in the City, because our concept is quite good for the business crowd, but we haven’t got a location just yet, so fingers crossed.” • Picture special – pages 22 and 23. Salon takes former Market Row unit Dave Simpson’s Market Row Wines is no longer trading, but the unit hasn’t remained empty for long. Towards the end of September, the team behind the hipster restaurant Salon took possession and will re-brand the shop in Brixton Market as The Salon Wine Store. THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 4 Director Mark Gurney says: “We’ve been working next to Dave for almost all the five years he was there and we had a really close relationship. We had always made no bones about wanting to expand Salon and when he said he was packing it all in, we jumped at the chance. “We already use similar suppliers to Dave and will be kind of carrying on his legacy, but with a Salon twist.” The offering will be similar to Simpson’s original concept – mostly organic, biodynamic and low-intervention wines as well as “lots of local beers”. Salon’s restaurant is upstairs while the bar area is on the ground floor. “If we could bash down the wall, we would, but the market won’t allow us,” says Gurney. “The bar and the shop will work symbiotically – most days you can buy a bottle of wine in the shop and bring it next door. We’ll have a shop price and a retail price or a corkage fee.” • Laithwaites has opened its 14th retail branch. The store in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, is the most northerly in its estate.

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Friarwood engages with village people Friarwood is capitalising on a boom in its retail business with the opening of a second shop. The Parsons Green merchant, bought by Ben Carfagnini from the family of founder Peter Bowen in 2014, has acquired a vacant unit in the High Street of Wimbledon Village. “Our wholesale business is the biggest side of Friarwood but we’ve seen really strong growth in retail over the last three years – something like 30% year on year, roughly,” says Carfagnini. “We thought it made sense, while we’re growing, to see if we can do it again.” He attributes the growth to a strong wine range, knowledgeable staff and good customer service. “It seems to be working,” he says. He adds: “We’ve been looking for sites for a long time – since I bought the company – to grow our retail business. Wimbledon seemed like the right idea. It’s the village feel of what we have here at Parsons Green.” The shop will be managed by new recruit Ornella Rosucci, who has a background in the Italian wine trade. Carfagnini is open-minded about further expansion, both inside and outside London. “We’ll get this one going, but if this works and does what we want and expect it to do, yes, we’ll always grow.” Abergavenny gets its first wine merchant It took Lloyd Beedell just six weeks to put his long-term plan into action and launch Chesters in Abergavenny last month. Beedell and business partner Ben Carfagnini reports 30% growth in retail sales Southon didn’t expect the right premises to come up so quickly. “We’ve achieved a lot in a short space of time,” he says. “It was previously an antique shop and we went from a big empty white space and did it all in a week.” Cardiff native Beedell says Abergavenny was always top of his hit list. “The main Michelin restaurants are here, it’s a very foodie part of Wales and there were no other merchants here,” he says. The duo plan to provide small plates to accompany the by-the-glass offering but not until they install a small kitchenette. In November Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones is booked to run a pop-up restaurant. Armed with his Coravin, Beedell says Can your dog do this? THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 6 he will also be bringing bottles from his personal collection in-store for customers to try. There is enough space for seating around 12 people inside plus a few more outside at the front of the shop. Beedell once worked for Majestic and ND John, and was sommelier and restaurant manager at The Park House in Cardiff. Using existing business relationships with Hallgarten, Boutinot, Liberty, Bibendum and Enotria, who have all “been as good as gold,” Beedell has started with a range of over 100 wines and plans to add a selection of craft beers. Southon is new to the wine trade but is about to embark on his WSET level 2, and Beedell is keeping him on his toes by “popquizzing him daily”. Another key member of the team is Beedell’s German Pointer, Chester, after whom the shop is named. Wine Parlour opens in Streatham London wine merchant Chix Chandaria has acquired her third branch with a deal to take on the Boyce da Roca eaterie in Streatham High Road. “It’s a really cool daytime café, which we will keep for now because it’s doing really well,” she explains. “In the evening it will turn into one of our Wine Parlours. It will be off-sales as well and then as time goes on it will become more wine, less café.” Chandaria already operates under the Wine Parlour banner in Brixton and as Vintage 1824 in Herne Hill. “I want to be able to use it to do more wine dinners and things like that. We’d never really thought about buying another business but this came in at a very good deal, to be honest, and we know how difficult it is to get good premises. So it felt like one of those opportunities that would be silly to pass up.”

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Adeline Mangevine Loki prepares for stores two and three Loki expects to open its second branch on November 1 and says that a third will follow in the New Year. The Birmingham independent is about to unveil its store in Edgbaston Village, a new development that combines housing, leisure and retail elements. Owner Phil Innes says: “We will continue with five Enomatics featuring 40 wines and a range of around 400 wines, with a large craft beer and spirits range as well. “We will have a deli counter as well as a lounge area, and also a more bar-focused area. There is a small wine garden out the back which will be used in the summer.” The company has also been working on Artist’s impression of the Edgbaston branch the expansion of its original branch in the Great Western Arcade, which has doubled in size by incorporating the former Whisky Shop next door. “This will also increase our capacity in our lounge to cater for events of up to 70 people or 40 people seated,” says Innes. “We are also making some aesthetic improvements.” Innes has put in a planning application for a third shop, in the city’s Moseley district. Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing It’s at times like these, we have to think outside the wine box,” I say to Alex, attempting to sound chart for the wall,” suggests Alex, as we realise that quite a few categories overlap and it is getting complicated. businesslike. We’re having yet another “Perhaps we can do a massive window strategy meeting. We have quite a few decal that says ‘only good wine sold these days. The chill wind that is blowing here’?” he adds. Ah, the optimism. Who through our import-based industry reads anything put in a window? means we must keep thinking up new We move on to other ideas. “How ways to keep people spending with us. about a poseur table, for customers “I think we need to rethink our shop to use as they look scroll through to make it more experiential,” says Alex, thousands of smartphone photos, trying with a flourish. He means serving wines by the glass. He’s right. Resistance is futile. So we outline plans for a tasting We only sell ‘good’ wines, but counter offering flights, rather than plunging straight into a cheese-and charcuterie show, which means we don’t need to hire anyone else for the moment. maybe we need to advertise our mind-reading We could découpage the counter with pages from all those rapidly out-of-date service too price lists that are piling up. Then I suggest we have could have a to locate that amazing wine they had and rethink about how we display our wines. wondered if we could stock it?” I suggest. We could ditch the trusty by-country-by- We chew over some ideas of how to style method and organise it by occasion. occupy bored children who come in with Why is a customer buying wine? their parents. Ideas include a critter We instantly come up with a whole list corner, where only wines with animal of categories: “I’ve had a hard day”; “I labels would be stocked (could get us want to treat myself”; “A thank-you gift into trouble) and small-format bottles for someone not very close (under £10)/ (which could get us into even bigger someone close (above £10)”; “Dinner trouble). Conversely, we could have an with someone who knows about wine adults-only corner for those wines with and I don’t want to embarrass myself”; naughty labels. I’m looking at you, French “Dinner with friends but I don’t know natural winemakers. what they’re cooking”; “I only drink “And we need a book of remembrance,” French”; “We’re having chicken”; “We’re adds Alex. “It’ll help customers mourn having steak”; and finally “Good wine”. the loss of a wine that we no longer stock It’s surprising how many people ask this, – especially those small parcels and bin- as if a) we mainly stock bad wine and b) ends we snapped up and made quite clear we’re mind-readers and know exactly that when they were gone, they really what qualifies as a customer’s idea of were absolutely gone. Hopefully, this will good. stop them asking when these wines will “We might need to do a cross-reference be back in.” I doubt it. THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 7

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Let’s meet the magnificent seven WBC’s cool new wine gift bags are the ideal way to encourage customers to trade up as the all-important festive sales season approaches IN ASSOCIATION WITH We’ve all been tempted by the little extras on the way to the till, and so have a whopping 60% of UK shoppers. It’s a tried and tested marketing technique, according to smallbusiness. co.uk: “British consumers spend a whopping £21.7 billion on impulse purchases each year,” it reports. Gift bags for bottles have to be one of the easiest and most cost-effective impulse gifts for drinks retailers to offer. With trade prices starting from as little as £0.84p a unit, bottle bags are a great way to easily increase average order values, while upselling product and maximising sales, especially during the festive season. WBC director Andrew Wilson says: now and, if well displayed, bottle bags “Incremental or impulse sales are increasingly important to all retailers are one of the easiest ways of generating additional profit. “Investment in stock and retail space required are both minimal and it is a valuable service to your customers who can leave the shop with a ready-made and wrapped gift.” Launching this autumn are seven new bottle bags designed in-house by WBC’s creative team – a must-buy for anyone selling drinks between now and Christmas. The collection is designed by WBC’s creative director Mark Ho, the creative force at the forefront of developing concepts for a range of top-name drinks producers from E & J Gallo Winery to Chase Distillery and even designing clothing for Kylie Minogue. This new seasonal collection incorporates trends from around the country to appeal to a wider audience with colour schemes, themes, and patterns retailers can be assured remain exclusive to independents. All bags come supplied with a matching gift tag and barcode. With trade prices starting from £0.84 per bag, you can sell them for anything between £1.99 to £3.99 – it couldn’t be easier to make strong margins. THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 8 New bottle bags are available to purchase online now at wbc.co.uk Email: sales@wbc.co.uk Telephone: 020 7737 4040

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tried & Tested Perdeberg Dry Land Collection Barrel Fermented Chenin 2015 Made from 40-year-old dry-farmed bush vines, this is a joyous expression of South Africa’s signature white variety. Herbs and honeysuckle on the nose, a nice leesy texture and ripe fruit flavours – it’s a good bottle to plonk in front of anyone who decries Chenin Blanc as boring. Such people are a dying breed. RRP: £13 ABV: 14% Boutinot (0161 908 1300) boutinot.com Rogue Vine Grand Itata Tinto 2015 The DIY label probably makes it an instant indie hit regardless of the juice, but let’s not get cynical: this is a ripe, robust and juicy Cinsault from Bío Bío, with rich medicinal notes and a cool mineral finish. A triumph for organic farming, native yeasts and concrete tanks. RRP: £19.50 ABV: 13% Indigo Wine (020 7733 8391) indigowine.com Le P’tit Paysan Le P’tit Pape 2015 “We did not set out to make these wines,” says winemaker Ian Brand. “We discovered great vineyards at the edge of sensible farming and decided to bring them to light.” This Rhône-inspired blend from California is as well-balanced and friendly as its creator seems to be, with soft fruits and earthiness. RRP: £29.75 ABV: 14% The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999) winetreasury.com Lemberg Lady 2014 Roughly half of this Western Cape blend is Viognier, with Semillon, Hárslevelü and Sauvignon Blanc contributing the rest. It’s made in a natural, hands-off oxidative style and aged in old barrels. There’s a real generosity of spirit here; a soft, rich, homely warmth, leavened by a zesty minerality and sprinkle of spice. RRP: £12.95 ABV: 14% Seckford Agencies (01206 231188) seckfordagencies.co.uk Terra Tangra Tamianka 2016 Tamianka, as all schoolchildren know, is a synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. At the Dirty Dozen, Top Selection was proudly pouring this example from its new agency in Bulgaria’s Thracian Valley and very lovely it is too. Nothing complex or convoluted, just a fresh, clean, everyday white with a silky texture. The winery’s Black Label Mavrud was showing well too. RRP: £7.50 ABV: 13% Top Selection (0845 410 3255) topselection.co.uk Torre de Oña Martelo Reserva 2012 The vineyards that winemaker Julio Sáenz selected for this soft, leathery Rioja are all more than 60 years old. There’s still a certain tightness but it’s a wine that’s raring to go, with rich blackcurrant and forest fruits coming to the fore, backed by the judicious seasoning of American and French oak. Beautiful stuff. RRP: £35 ABV: 14% Armit Wines (020 7908 0600) armitwines.co.uk Tara Pinot Noir 2014 When Vino Ventisquero first planted vines in the parched, saline salt flats of the Atacama desert, they died. It’s a brutal landscape but Felipe Tosso was convinced morning fog and coastal winds would do their job, and so persevered. His faith was justified: this is a painstaking and elegant Pinot, with none of the jam or alcohol burn that infects so many rivals. RRP: £36.80 ABV: 12.5% The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999) winetreasury.com Daniel Ramos Kπ Amphora 2015 Daniel Ramos was originally making bulk wine from his base in Spain’s herb-encrusted Gredos Hills before being persuaded to take a more premium direction. This wine comes from old-vine Garnacha, fermented in 1,000-litre clay vessels. It’s a lively and spirited affair, with a lightness and delicate granularity, and a hint of Iberian mountain flora. RRP: From £18 ABV: 14.5% Raymond Reynolds (01663 742230) winesfromportugal.com THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 10

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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Liam Plowman Wild + Lees London Favourite wine on my list Domaine Bouché Etre á l’Ouest: an unoaked, unfiltered Chardonnay from Limoux. It has a crown-cap closure and a craftily illustrated, hipster-friendly label, so you could be forgiven for suspecting style over substance. It isn’t! It is utterly delicious and you’d be hard pushed to find a purer expression of the fruit. Fantastic. Favourite wine and food match Easy ... Gewurztraminer and curry! Gewurztraminer has such a generosity of fruit and spice and a slight residual sweetness that complements curry spices like nothing else. Favourite wine trip I had a fantastic trip to the Southern Rhône recently. Lovely people, great food and wine and some amazing winemakers, toiling in 40-degree heat. Favourite wine trade person It’s such a friendly industry that it’s hard to have favourites. That said, a young chap called George Randall from Boutinot has been brilliant to me. When I told him that I had quit my job to open a wine shop, he came round to my house loaded with samples and good advice. Favourite wine shop Market Row Wines in Brixton. It was something of an inspiration for Wild + Lees. Lo-fi, friendly, casual and inclusive of everyone, in terms of price and attitude. Corks still seen as superior closures Magpie An experiment has shown that people perceive wines bottled with cork to be superior to those under screwcap, even when the liquid is the same. Volunteers at Oxford University were asked to taste and rate a wine after being played the sound of either a cork popping or a screwcap being twisted. Participants rated the same wine as 15% better quality when served under a cork in comparison to screwcap. “The sound and sight of a cork being popped sets our expectations before the wine has even touched our lips, and these expectations then anchor our tasting experience,” Prof Charles Spence said. The Drinks Business, September 27 140 volunteers took part in the experiment Coravin taps into screwcap market A new device from Coravin claims to keep screwcap wines fresh for up to three months once the original seal has been broken. Coravin screwcaps have been made available initially to Coravin Club members and will now go on general sale in the UK, the company said. A pack of six caps retails at £29.95. Decanter, September 5 Vineyard robot proves its worth A vineyard robot has undergone successful trials in the Douro Valley as part of a €2m project involving Symington Family Estates. In the tests the VineScout robot monitored vines in the Quinta do Ataíde vineyard. It will now proceed to “the next stage of development”, Symington Family Estates said. The trial involves €1.7m of EU investment and aims to improve the viticulture of European wine regions, addressing the issue of labour shortages. Imbibe, September 12 • Liberty Wines boss David Gleave MW has warned that Brexit represents “death by a thousand cuts” for parts of the UK on-trade, “with businesses leaving a bit at a time”. Imbibe, September 14 winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 winemerchantteam@gmail.com Twitter: @WineMerchantMag The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 834 specialist independent wine shops. Every one of them, as the previous sole exception to the rule has now closed down. The magazine is edited by Graham Holter. Printed in Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2017 Registered in England: No 6441762 VAT 943 8771 82 THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 12

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book review A golden era for the golden slope? Raymond Blake’s absorbing new book suggests we may be living through what will one day be regarded as the glory years of the Côte d’Or. But the problems he flags up, such as climate change and stratospheric pricing, should be a cause for concern for all Burgundy lovers Côte d’Or: The wines and winemakers in the heart of Burgundy Raymond Blake Infinite Ideas, £30 not necessarily represent the pinnacle of that domaine’s output, but do provide a flavour of what they’re about. Blake now has a home in the Côte d’Or, and you sense he prefers a neighbourly drink with his subjects to a late-night digest of the “notre histoire” section of their websites. He’s at pains to point out that decent Burgundy is not the sole preserve of millionaires, whatever the shrill headlines in the trade press may imply. If you fancy buying a hectare of vineyard in Montrachet or Musigny, expect to pay something approaching €50m. That’s roughly €5,000 for a square metre of dirt and a solitary vine, yielding half a bottle of wine if you’re lucky. As Raymond Blake observes: that does not make sense. How can the Côte d’Or, this “tear in the earth’s surface” with its exposed Jurassic limestone, justify such a grotesque valuation? Why do auction houses sell back vintages of Romanée-Conti, Roumier and Leflaive at prices that would make even some oligarchs wince? The answer, of course, is that the Côte d’Or produces wines like nowhere else on earth. “No gustatory experience can match the thrill of a great Côte d’Or red drunk at its peak,” Blake asserts. “The colour, crimsoned by age; the heavenly Blake has profiled around 100 producers scent, perfumed with notes of sweet decay; a sauvage edge, the palate lively and tingling, managing to be so many things at once, oscillating between fruit and spice and meat and game, a merry-go-round of flavour, spiralling on the palate, refusing to be pinned down by anything so prosaic as a tasting note.” Blake presents around 100 pen-portraits of some favourite Côte d’Or producers, capturing the essence and personality of each and recommending wines that may THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 14 Not that everything on the slope is golden. Spring hail is causing mayhem in swaths of the Côte de Beaune with alarming regularity. Spiralling prices are a genuine concern, even if there tends to be exaggeration about how much of the region’s output is actually caught up in the madness. Counterfeiting is undoubtedly a huge worry, and nobody can be sure quite how widespread the problem is, or will reveal itself to be in the coming decades. Then there are issues with the wines themselves. Premature oxidation in Côte d’Or whites has been on the trade’s radar since 1996, and so far no one has come up with a wholly satisfactory explanation for it, though inevitably corks are implicated. The problem has deterred many Burgundy consumers from bothering to lay down their wines, and prompted many producers

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to opt for a purer, fruitier Chardonnay intended for younger drinking. “As a wine style, aged white Burgundy may have had its day,” Blake warns. “Future historians may write that the early years of the 21st century witnessed the disappearance of this wonderful wine style.” Blake is also fearful of a creeping homogenisation of winemaking among red wine producers. He seems to yearn for a slightly less meticulous approach to grape selection and a rejection of any overarching winemaking template in the sterile pursuit of “correctness”. “Quirks and foibles add character, too much at times, but the polished perfection of mass production, admirable rather than lovable, is absent here,” he says. “And that is the way it must remain.” Blake stops short of strident predictions about Burgundy’s future, arguing that like anywhere else, it’s essentially at the mercy of world events and not simply changing tastes and practices in the wine microcosm. But he highlights the intriguing phenomenon of the micro-négoce. These are the Côte d’Or’s equivalent of microbrewers: outsiders who buy in grapes and typically turn out fresh, immediatelydrinkable wines that build a cult following via websites and social media. Will such producers change the face of such a tradition-saturated region? For now, “in the jigsaw puzzle of the Côte they are little more than a single piece, a shining bright piece that should be cherished”. Burgundy can be a tricky place to get to grips with, for newcomers and old hands alike, and Blake steers clear of oversimplifying a region for which complexity is part of the charm. Absolute beginners may feel that his introductory chapters are a couple of jumps ahead of their personal starting point, and indeed compound any sense that mastering the Côte d’Or is a feat unlikely to be achieved in a career, let alone with the reading of one book. But Blake’s affection for his adopted region, and his respect for its people and the wines they make, shines through. He offers a friendly and knowledgeable commentary that does a commendable job of making sense of how the Côte d’Or rose to pre-eminence – and adds some thoughtprovoking observations about where it may be heading. Graham Holter Are you ready for the Christmas sales? 40% of wine sales are made online during the festive period The Drinks Business, 19th May, 2015 by Neal Baker • Easily personalised to requirements • Tried and tested platform • Bespoke graphic design • Mobile responsive • Take payments online Don’t let another Christmas slip by Call us today on: 01865 922 110 Find out more at: www.openimagination.co.uk/grapes In partnership with Vintner Systems Computer systems for Drinks Trade Wholesalers THE WINE MERCHANT october 2017 15 open imagination www.vintner.co.uk

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