Friday, September 10, 2010

Back... Just About...

Back in Ireland two weeks already. Seems like we were never away. Reports are that the vines are all doing well and harvest will be mid-October. Plenty going on here - easiest to copy and email I sent to a friend earlier today.....

"I just seem to have been running around in a blind panic for the past fortnight since we got home - and looking back on it I'm not sure if I actually achieved anything. We did manage to get the kids off to school - eldest into secondary school for the first time and youngest into national school on the same day! At one stage it felt like we were about to send them off to school with bottles of wine in their bags - meanwhile dropping some sandwich samples into local restaurants - but we managed to get it all sorted in the end. Our fortnight of mayhem came to an end yesterday when the arrival of some new hens brought some sanity, and calm, to the whole place - although disappointingly the "Thursday Man" had no ducklings which we were also counting on - but they may yet appear.

As for all things food and wine related, the West seems to have had a pretty good Summer. Obviously we were working from Slovenia, with me shuttling backwards and forwards and in contact with customers, but even so, there does definitely seem to be a quiet air of relieved satisfaction that the Summer turned out to be better than expected. In fairness, everyone is crediting the hotels for bringing people into the towns by doing amazing deals - and this in turn spreads some money around the restaurants and shops - and amazingly since people can now see how beneficial eachothers businesses are, they are starting to talk about working together to maximise opportunities - great what a recession can do for group therapy! The West was definitely a beneficiary of people holidaying at home - I don't think things were so rosy in Dublin and on the East coast.

The big challenge though is to make sure that "good value" doesn't become a synonym for lowest common denominator in terms of delivering an interesting offering. In terms of wines, "House Wines" is where it's at with big pressure on margins, but also the potential for big volumes. But that can squeeze out the smaller, quirkier producers - very few hoteliers and restaurateurs want to take risks and the danger is that we (collectively) become a nation of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers - not that there is anything wrong individually with each - but we all do need a bit of variety. Our challenge now is to try and walk the tightrope between a commercially viable portfolio - and one that also includes nuggets of wine individuality. But it's not just about having them for the sake of looking good - we all need something interesting to sell, something to be passionate about, something new, something that we believe in whilst others might laugh (well hopefully not too loud!) - something unique. We have a few new suitable candidates up our sleeves, including a viable Modra Frankinja that we helped do the blend for and is being bottled this week - so no pressure at all on us then!

I'm actually quite positive though about the opportunities for the smaller, quirkier, individualistic approach. Much as everyone is focussed on margins and playing safe (and who can blame them), they also want something a little different. We're finding more and more that as prices drop and consumers have a broad range of choice at similar prices - what they want is individuality. The recession is a great opportunity for the smaller, adaptable, passionate supplier.

Anyway, that's my manifesto for the next few months! We were sad to leaves the vines behind - we learnt so much this year, in the vineyard, but also in the local community. There is so much information you can pick up without realising you're learning it - it was hard to leave, but also easy to return here. We will make a short dash back in the middle of October for the harvest - and try not too lose too many fingers as we harvest the fruit."

In the meantime, plenty to be busy with here......

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