Monday, June 21, 2010

Salon Jeruzalem 2010

As importers, we spend a lot of time tasting wines. The best opportunities to taste are generally with producers, at their properties. In addition to the wines themselves, you can get a good idea of their philosophy, see the actual vineyards and rummage around the cellar. Plus you can also decide if you like them or not – a lot of it is about personality as well! The downside is that it’s sometimes a bit awkward to tell them you don’t like their ones – direct to their face.

That’s where the next opportunity comes in – although it’s a double-edged sword. Wine Fairs gather together groups of producers under one roof, roughly categorised, and then let the hordes in to taste the wines – usually in badly lit, noisy, warm environments. They range from the enormous annual bash in Verona, VinItaly, that hosts some 4,000 producers (think of the RDS crammed with people, quadruple it, and then survive there for 4 days), to the more compact southern-French focus of Vinisud. But they do serve a useful purpose in that they can provide very broad brush strokes of a particular vintage style, or the opportunity to taste a whole batch of wines from one region against eachother – and of course, occasionally you can strike gold.

However, if I had to choose my perfect location for a wine “Fair” it would probably be on top of a hill in the middle of rolling vineyards, with good food, under 20 participants all from the one region, interesting seminars and an amazing choir performance in the open air under the stars the night before. Sound unlikely? Well it did to me – until we attended the annual Salon Jeruzalem last weekend.

It was a great opportunity to taste with a variety of local producers – many of whom are now internationally recognised – and to compare notes. From the Decanter World Wine award-winning Dveri-Pax, to our own mini-gang of Miro and Verus, and a whole host of others, the whole day was a pleasure. It was the proper way to taste wine – in good company, in a relaxed manner, with plenty of enthusiastic opinions and lots of good wine.

Roll on next year…..

Biodynamics Is a Hoax.....

The World Cup is in full swing and we happen to have found ourselves tucked away in the corner of a country that seems to be doing rather well! Hopes are high for Slovenia’s progress - there isn’t quite as much panic to finish work in the vineyard and there is many a lively conversation about how the game against England will go. Suffice to say, I’d prefer to be watching it here than in England!

We’ve also had some mixed weather over the past week – overcast and rainy. It’s not completely unusual, but it does mean that the one thing everyone is alert for is Peronospera, or mildew. The greatest danger time is when the weather oscillates from damp and cool, to warm and slightly less damp. Tractors are regularly shuttling past the front door and in and out of vineyards, actively spraying the vines. And it will most likely continue this way for the next few weeks.

Of course, as someone who has read numerous dissertations on the subject and also given the odd tasting on the same theme, the whole issue of spraying – and more importantly, what is actually being sprayed – is something every novice (and experienced) winemaker has an opinion on. But, as with many things, the actual practical experience is very different to the theory. Of course, we would love to change the process and methods utilised in our vineyard overnight to more “sustainable” ones, but the first step is to actually understand the current ones, evaluate them and then make reasoned decisions. The other half of the coin is of course that any good practices undertaken in the vineyard can of course be undone by shoddy practices in the vinification of the wines.

But at least the debate is lively! For me, the most realistic objective would be to incorporate the principles of “la lutte raisoneé” – the reasoned battle, effectively an widely practised approach where winemakers are responsible and respectful for their environment.

For those who really want to get into the nitty gritty, have a look at the Blog below:

Right or wrong (and there’s plenty of debate!), it will certainly keep you occupied during those less exciting World Cup matches!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


This is what we’ve been waiting for! Flowering has finished and you can just begin to spot the tiny fruits. At this stage last year, we had been hit by a number of severe thunder and hail storms and each tiny bunch had black “bruise” marks all over it. Not the mention the leaves looking like they’d been put through a shredder!

On the subject of leaves, the vines continue to grow rapidly. They’re all due a haircut next week……

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When all the focus is on the current vintage and chaperoning the vines through the growing season to harvest, it’s easy to forget that plans need to be made now that will yield dividends not in 4 months, but 4 years.

There has been much re-planting of vineyards in this region over the past few years. Partly because of EU grant aid (in France they pay the vignerons to take out the vineyards!) and partly as some producers want to expand the varieties they are farming. Historically, and actually more so politically, this is a white wine region. Red grapes are in the minority, but many new plantings now favour Pinot Noir (Modri Pinot), Cabernet, Merlot or Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch). I’m not so sure about the potential for Pinot Noir, but as you may have already noticed, I have been wowed by Modra Frankinja.

Above is a new vine Modra Frankinja vine planted this spring – one of many! They are all sourced from a local nursery and this particular example is one year old – and costs about €1. You can also get two year old vines, for, wait for it, €2!

Since Phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards in the late 1800’s, all new plantings of vines have been grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. Every single vine planted anywhere in Europe. The grafting process is specialised and carefully controlled. In the picture you can see the wax covering the place where the vine and rootstock have been grafted.

Interestingly, in the past, winemakers would have planted the new vines deeper into the ground. The problem with this method was that the graft was below soil and any shoots that the vine produced above the graft could then turn downwards and develop roots – that would not be phylloxera-resistant. So the current method is to keep everything above the graft well up from the soil.

However, many winemakers will also “train” a shoot of one vine back down into the ground, along and then up again where an old vine might have died or become diseased. This will then develop roots itself and become a new vine. Only problem is that it’s technically not phylloxera-resistant. The percentage is small, but it’s growing and it’s difficult to know exactly how much of a particular vineyard is still on the American rootstock.

And so, our little friend above will begin contributing to the pleasure of wine drinkers in about 24 months time. True, the fruit will be young and simple, but it won’t be wasted!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Miro 2009 Vintage Tasting

Last week we got the opportunity to taste Miro Munda’s 2009 range of wines in his cellar. We have been importing Miro’s wines into Ireland for 3 years now and the wines have been very successful with a growing customer base.

Miro is also a firm friend now, so a tasting with him is a great opportunity to talk about winemaking in general and to offer feedback and input in a constructive manner. He exemplifies the newer generation of winemakers here who haven taken on the family winery and revolutionised the way the wines are produced – releasing the potential that the land and vines have to offer. One of his first stops was to form a co-operation agreement with the Polz brothers’ winery across the border in Austria (only 40km from here) and they continue to work closely together today. Like many of the younger winemakers here, he has studied oenology, so conversations between himself and Sinead can often sound like Professor Bunsen Burner meets his Slovenian cousin!

He is also continually experimenting and always has a tank or two of some new project underway. This year it’s a fresh Rosé, last year it was a fantastic first red wine – a Modra Frankinja. He has gradually moved away from using oak – in fact it’s mostly used on his wonderful dessert wine, Fuga Mundi and has reduced sulphur levels to minimal amounts.

The wine we import most of is his great Sipon – pronounced “shipon”. We have had many discussions about labelling of wines from this region – for example, Sipon is actually the same grape as Furmint from Hungary. When we started working with Miro we were keen to keep it labelled as Sipon so that the local name is associated with this region and therefore builds awareness of the area as a whole and the various indigenous varieties. We get great satisfaction that his Sipon is listed in places like Doonbeg Gold Club, Rosleague Manor and the Knockranny House Hotel – rather than as a “Furmint”.

His 2009 Sipon was as good as ever with a nice hint of grapefruit and nice zingy fruit. We actually tried three different tanks with fruit sourced from different vineyards and it was fascinating to see the differences. The final result will be great.

The 2009 Renski Riesling was also wonderful – and stole the tasting that particular day – ripe, crisp and nice stony minerality running through it.

New this year was a bone dry Rosé made from Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch) – very light pink in colour with a hint of strawberry on the nose - but lots of fruit and amazingly complex for what looks like a “simple” wine.

We have a great interest in his “red” project – a juicy, succulent, very more-ish red wine made from Modra Frankinja. His first vintage was 2008 and it has been in barrel for about a year now – with classic polished nose and smooth fruit, but also showing some signs of maturity at this stage. His 2009 is still in tank and has much more “jammy” primary fruit and a dense core of dense, black fruits. The big decision is how long it should go into oak for….

We think Modra Frankinja has great potential – it has some similarities to a Pinot Noir in terms of body weight, but has a very pure, precise, juicy flavour profile with nice spicy characteristics. Miro has just planted a new vineyard with the variety, and I think we’ll start to see a lot more of it around here.

Watch out, it’ll be the next big thing……….!

All at Sea

A few weeks back I commented on the more prevalent that usual “minerality” in the 2009 vintages wines we had tasted. I noted it was strange as a lot of the soils here are clay based. Well, we can all be wrong some of the time, but it seems I can be wrong all of the time.

I have of course delighted in telling friends that the surrounding region is known as the Pannonian plain, and that prior to the land now, it was of course the…… Pannonian Sea! So somewhere down below our feet are plenty of minerals, sand, crushed shells and everything you’d expect to find on a seabed a couple of million years old.

A few years back when they were building the local Earthquake monitoring station, they came across the above rocks just 5M down. So there’s plenty of minerality here.

And no, I didn’t know about the earthquakes either! That’s something else I need to check out……….

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cabernet Franc Treat

We’re in the middle of an amazing white wine region here, but good local red wines are a little more difficult to come by. Aside from Modrja Frankinja (wait and see – the next big thing!) we tend to find many of them a little austere. So any spare space in the car not occupied by kid’s junk is crammed with some random bottles of red wine before we leave Ireland.

Prompted by John Wilson’s two “Wines of the Week” from Bernard Baudry that we import in the Irish Times in the past couple of weeks – the Chinon les Granges and Chinon Rosé, we thought it would be a good time to try some for ourselves.

We dug deep into out small stash and pulled out two wonderful reds: the first was a Domaine Bernard Baudry Domaine Chinon 2001 which was drinking wonderfully with nice mature flavour characteristics. Amazing stuff for a 10 year old bottle that cost €13.99. The second was another Baudry – this time the Chinon les Grezeaux 2002 – it had more focussed fruit and finer tannins and still has a little life ahead of it – and very impressive too. Both served slightly chilled (relative to the heat) and both stunning examples of how good the very underrated Cabernet Franc can be.

At the moment the world’s wine importers are focussing their attention on the Bordeaux 2009 vintage and the superlative scores (and prices), with Cabernet Franc being hailed as one of the very successful varieties. A few hundred kilometres North in the Loire is a treasure trove of wonderful wines from the same grape at a fraction of the price!

Mmm.....Lovely Tasty Leaves

The vines continue to grow at a rapid rate – in just over 5 weeks some of the shoots have grown 80cm, over 2cm a day! The photo above can be compared to the one accompanying our first blog back in April.

The arrival of lots of lush, green leaves draws the interest of some more unusual neighbours – the local deer. The woodlands at the bottom of the hill are home to many wild deer and they are a frequent sight as you shuttle along the back roads here. Apparently they have developed a taste for the vines! Not for the grapes (these catch the interest of the birds later in the season), but for the juicy leaves. However, not just any vine leaves: apparently they like Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Off the menu are Sipon (phew), Riesling and Modra Frankinja. I’d never really thought of the leaves of different vines tasting differently, so we may just have to go out and taste a few.

As a child, I remember the local cows taking a fancy to our windscreen wipers – but I suppose that’s because there weren’t any vines around to munch!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Green Harvesting - Or Not?

I’ve never had a handle on this. Now is a good time to make a stab at getting to grips with it. There are so many theories about if, when and how to prune vines during the growing season. Whole bunches are removed to allow just the right amount of fruit to draw on the precious limited resources of minerals and other nutrients that the roots work hard to access from deep in the ground. The dilemma between quantity and quality comes into play.

The first thing I learned, and I suppose the thing that is at the heart of the matter is this: each vine decides how many bunches of grapes it will produce depending on its age, health and circumstances (soil, climate, etc…). Not unlike the decisions we make when starting a family, the difference being that when the going gets tough, the vines can drop fruit so that the remaining bunches stand a chance of making it to ripeness! The vines and the winemaker begin a dance as the grapes are groomed for greatness. Tough decisions must be made for the ultimate prize…terroir in a glass.

The following theory makes a lot of sense… timing is everything. Only after the vine becomes woody, close to harvest, should excess bunches be culled from the vine. This woodiness signals a return of the sap to the ground as the plant prepares for the winter. What is left in the spur (see picture above) is a larder of nutrients for the grapes to draw on until they are picked. If some bunches of grapes are removed at this stage then there are less mouths to feed and those lucky few can share a supply of food to keep them in good shape and produce mature well-balanced individuals.

If , however, bunches are removed from the vine while the wood is green and sap is in plentiful supply, the remaining grapes will draw up more water from the roots and swell to compensate for the loss of volume. These individuals will be big but a bit clueless – unfocussed and dilute. A sandwich short of a picnic… you get the picture.

That is one theory regarding fruit management. Next to consider is when and how to get of excess leaves.

Canopy Management
Last year a short but violent hail shower early in the growing season shredded the leaves of the vines exposing the delicate skin of the young grapes to an ever increasing hot sun. Later shoots bearing young healthy leaves which would normally have been removed, (the vines are usually given a ‘haircut’ later in the season), were allowed to remain on the plants, these leaves acting as an extra pairs of hands to allow effective photosynthesis.

The weather imitated an old vineyard tradition. The philosophy behind this practice is that grape skin, much like our own skin, builds up a tolerance for hot sun if given incremental exposure. The result is a richer, concentrated and balanced cocktail of chemicals in the skin and in the flesh.

It’s comforting to know that with all our technology and progressive science we aren’t as clever as we think we are! The wisdom of age is gentle and quietly assured. While each generation rushes to discover a new better way, perhaps we should slow down and ask the old boys a few questions. We can then apply the science… but the result is still the same.
The old girls are there too, unfortunately they’re harder to find.

The Future Of........Milk!

I remember a time BBW – “Before Bottled Water”. I don’t quite remember a time BBM (Before Bottled Milk) but I do certainly remember the scepticism with which bottled water was greeted. Why, when it falls out of the sky every day and we’re surround by the stuff in Ireland, would we ever pay good money to buy water in a bottle? We laughed at Ballygowan and their posh water with bubbles in it and we rejoiced in learning to pronounce foreign names like Evian and Vittel. And we thought only mad people would buy them.

Now, we’re happy to pay more for a litre of bottled water than a farmer receives per litre for bottled milk.

So it was with some initial amusement we stumbled across the latest trend sweeping the local villages here – the “Mlekomat” or “Milk-O-Mat”. We went up and had a good poke around – it even moos at you when you walk past. Why, we wondered, would you pay for a bottle of milk when you can pick one up easily in the local supermarket when you’re doing the rest of your shopping?

Then we noticed people were using them – and using them a lot. So we started – and now we’re addicted. A litre of fresh milk at any time of the day in a beautiful glass or more functional plastic bottle, filled automatically on demand for you – and you can re-use the bottles.

The milk is local, the farmer or local co-op achieves the holy grail of retailing – the “direct sale” and controls the entire chain from supply to final delivery of product – and they get a better price for it rather than selling to a big supermarket. Best of all, the money then stays local too. And people love them – we’ve become addicted to our fresh, local milk!

So we thought, what a good idea for Ireland….. but apparently some enterprising people have already thought of it (according to a friend who saw a reference to the systems in the Farmer’s Journal), so we’ll just have to keep an eye out for the “next big thing”….

Anyone for a “Spud-O-Mat”….