Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Think I'm in Love.......

Warning: Some readers may find the sentimental content of this blog offensive!

X Sinead
The Twins
P.S. Normal service will be resumed shortly

Having started the ball rolling in September with the Modra Frankinja harvest and then handed over to Liam, I returned to Kog with instructions ringing in my ear and a huge order for marbles (more on that later).

Only now do I have a bit of perspective on the last five weeks. It’s October 28th and after my second stint in Slovenia I’m leaving the wines and feeling a bit down. No more indian summer and the cellar feels sleepy. I miss the urgency and fun of harvest time when days ended with aching muscles and a good communal feed. I suppose these feelings are a reflection of my innocence in the winemaking game. To go from the social buzz of September with tractor traffic jams and good-natured shouts of abuse, to the short quiet days of October is a bit of a shock.

The grape juice, once sweet and almost 3-D, is now treading the painful path through adolescence, losing the puppy fat of that gorgeous sugar but revealing bones, and hopefully a sixpack in time to come. I still recognise these wines but there is the equivalent of the bobbing adams apple and spots, gangly and a little awkward but I know we have the makings of a headturner. It‘s clear to me now that I view the red wine as masculine.

I confess I haven’t bonded with the Sipon. I know it’s good, showing concentration. It’s packing a punch already - losing some of the pear aroma and palate and taking on characteristic grapefruit - but this is Liam’s baby. I feel like a mother in the maternity ward cooing over another woman’s bundle of joy. Ah, fond memories…

September 11: Going into labour

 Early morning butterflies, equal parts dread and excitement, I have an overwhelming feeling of responsibility and I don’t think I’m ready for this. It’s silly, really, because I’m part of a small but perfectly formed team of professional winemakers who are the equivalent of seasoned obstetricians. We have set aside four rows of vines that will yield 700 kilos of juicy black Modra Frankinja (Austria’s Blaufrancish).

Bunch and berry selection is rigorous and these healthy grapes will make life in the winery so much easier than bunging in everything. I’m not my usual chatty self this morning and take a bit of ribbing from the others for being so serious.

I explain that I’m in labour!

Grapes picked, weighed, de-stemmed and crushed, it’s time for lunch. I really thought I’d feel celebratory but instead am suffering from low level anxiety. I want to be inside the winery with the purple porridge, not outside in the sun sharing jokes.

Crushed and de-stemmed grapes going into Plastic

Feeding the de-stemmer

It’s twins!

So now we have ‘Modra Frankinja Plastic’ and ‘Modra Frankinja Steel Tank’.

adding SO2 to Modra Frankinja Plastic
The MF Plastic resides in the open housed pressing room . A huge plastic cube holds this portion of crushed grapes and delivers, for me, the most satisfying opportunity to smell, taste and feel the wonderful gloop. It’s all I can do to stop myself from pole-vaulting headfirst into it.

I find myself wondering if the others remember this first flush of excitement and heightened sensitivity and do these urges weaken with each vintage. This baby is given a bucketful of fermenting juice from another wine in the cellar as a starter pack to fermentation. The clock starts now. No frills here, no technology and only the natural yeast living in the cellar and the ambient temperature. This is what I have come to think of as the home birth.

The other twin is in the equivilant of hospital ICU, in a steel tank with tubes coming out of it.

ICU: Modra Frankinja Stainless Steel Tank
Our aim is to keep temperature low so that we get a cold soak, like putting a teabag into a mug of cold water. Hopefully we’ll get a gentle extraction of flavour and aroma rather than a high temperature, coarser extraction. One tube delivers a slow bubbling of carbon dioxide which both agitates and blankets the juice from harmful oxygen. The second tube runs cooling water though the liquid to prevent spontaneous fermentation.

Leaving the cellar on this first evening feels strange and I’ve had a better night’s sleep on Pro-Plus.

There follows a soothing rythmn of morning and evening visits to the cellar, taking temperatures and recording sugar levels. The next few days deliver a rollercoaster of emotions. Panic at low acidity readings, an anxious wait for pH results and then a sigh of relief. I soon learn that acceptance and patience are handy qualities to have now. Most clich├ęs are rooted in truth and I have to admit that mother nature is clever. With a little help from judicious additions of SO2 and a blanketing of CO2 the MF Plastic settles down, like a broody hen, to work it’s magic. After a few days a satisfying crust of grape pulp rises to the top and the wine slowly starts to ferment. My favourite daily ritual is breaking this cap with my hand and feeling the liquid underneath… and then punching the livin’ be-jaysis out of it to help with extraction. (Technically called “punching down”.)

Punching Down
There is no substitute for experience. The wisdom and generosity of our friend, winemaker Miro, has not only made this adventure possible but also enjoyable. Open to our, possibly daft, experimentation, he gives us free reign while delivering gentle nudges in the right direction where we stray too far off piste. Liam and I have read a lot of theory but it soon becomes clear that the emerging wine doesn’t always keep to the script.

Next post: Nature versus Nurture… emerging personalities

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Halloween Electric Wine Quiz

Try it at home with the kids.....well, maybe not the kids....

Monday, October 24, 2011

What We Have Learnt - So Far....

Or maybe a better title would be what we haven’t learnt so far… but that would take too long to write – and anyway, we don’t know what we haven’t learnt yet! The one thing we do know is that although everything isn’t finished yet for the 2011 vintage, we are already making plans for next year – which seems a frustratingly long time away. You can’t just go back and do it all again immediately – you have to wait for Nature to play its part and work alongside it to coax everything towards the finish line some 12 months away. You can’t rush this winemaking stuff!

With just over 750 Litres of wine from 2011, next year, we think we will:
  • Change our Sipon vineyard almost entirely to single-Guyot. The test proved that although the yield was obviously lower, the quality of fruit borne by the vine was far superior.
  • We will pick the Sipon earlier, to preserve acidity and freshness – and chaptalize by a maximum of half a degree of alcohol if necessary to compensate.
  • We will do minimal punch-downs on the Modra Frankinja during maceration. Instead of 2 per day, we will endeavour to do just 1 midway through the whole fermentation – and in-between just keep the cap gently damp by pouring the occasional jug of must over it.
  • We will definitely do the cold-soak on the Modra Frankinja again, but in conjunction with less agitation of the cap, we will endeavour to leave the skins in contact with the juice until well after the alcoholic fermentation in order to gain maximum complexity, but keep the tannins as fine and balanced as possible. We will also keep the temperatures low during fermentation and encourage a slow, drawn-out process. No funny looking heaters!
  • On the other hand, we will most likely let the Sipon ferment at a higher temperature as we’re not too keen on the pear characteristics that seem to be emerging. However, we will also probably try a little pre-fermentation cold maceration to gain extra original fruit characteristics.
  • We will always check the size of the barrels before filling them! In an ideal world, we will source some 500L large old oak casks and try fermenting some of the Modra Frankinja in these.
Of course, all of the above depends on getting through pruning, flowering, budding, hail storms, drought, rot, flooding – and the odd domestic disagreement about differing winemaking techniques – otherwise known as a good old-fashioned row!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The White Stuff - Part Two...

Next morning at Miro’s cellar, we pressed the Sipon early in the morning – a true “cold press” at just 13 Celsius. We also pressed the whole bunches – no de-stemming – so that we could try and increase any available acidity – which was a little low at 6.3 g/l.

It was all then pumped into our steel fermentation tank and again chilled for a further 36 hours to let everything settle. We decided we would ferment on the heavy lees (we didn’t rack the juice off prior to fermentation) and stopped the cooling on the Sunday evening and added some inoculated yeasts. Miro’s own Sipon is naturally fermented, so we wanted to try an artificial yeast instead.

But the big question was acidity. Again, many viewpoints were exchanged. A lot of local winemakers would have 7.0 g/l as a target and the obvious suggestion was to acidify by adding tartaric acid – totally legal and practised in many countries. The other consideration was that, unlike red wine fermentations, the acidity level tends to drop a little during a white wine fermentation – there being no skins and pips for the yeasts to extract some extra acidity from.

Both Sinead and I were against this though – although not philosophically opposed to acidification, we just wanted to see how it would turn out without any intervention. We needed to understand how what you start with evolves into a finished product. Miro came up with an interesting suggestion to add some gently opened grape skins from his own Sipon so that there would be some minor maceration and acidity extraction – but we also decided against that.

What we did know by now is that we should have harvested earlier. Instead of sugar levels being a target, we should have used our instincts and gone with acidity and flavour for our guide. As sugar levels rise during grape ripening on the vine, acidity drops. If we had harvested earlier, we would have preserved acidity and could have chaptalized (added sugar) easily. Sugar is pretty simple stuff, and the yeasts convert it to alcohol in a pretty straightforward way, but there are many, many acids in a wine that produce a kaleidoscope of flavours and the addition of one single acid (e.g. tartaric acid) is a bit like using a mallet to tap a tack.

So our yeasts began their long and wonderful journey to alcoholic bliss without anything extra to contend with. Temperatures remained low – never broaching the 20 Celsius mark – and fermentation was nice and slow. However the flavours began to change from a straight fruit juice style (which is what unfermented juice is anyway) with hints of apples, to a more crunchy-pear style flavour. One major criticism of cool fermentations in white wines is that they can develop a “pear-drop” style flavour and that typicity and individuality can be compromised. Certainly Miro’s Sipon tasted more of the classic grapefruit style – but ours was a long way behind in fermentation terms and the residual sugar was hiding many of the subtleties and nuances of the final flavour composition.

I also took the opportunity to sit down with Ivan to try and sort out our differing opinions about how we had harvested the grapes. We have a huge amount of respect for him and the work he puts into tending the vines while we’re not there but, as I explained, we also want to experiment and try some new ideas. It turned out to be a great meeting. What had really rankled with Ivan was the fact we had discarded some less than perfect bunches on the ground during the harvest - even leaving them on the vine would have been better than just throwing them away. It seemed to him to be a vinous two-fingers to his hard work during the year. I hadn't realised the sensitivities involved and although we will both undoubtedly still harvest differently to each other, we also understand where the other is coming from. It was a relief to discover there would be no crying over spilt grape juice.

After 15 days the Sipon is still fermenting away slowly – almost there, but not quite yet. The acidity seems remarkable good and we’re really happy we didn’t acidify after all. Having tasted a couple of other producers’ wines who did acidify, the jarring, brutal attack of the acids just doesn’t seem to work – particularly since the flavours and aromatics are delicate in the first place.

Sinead will be back next week to rack the wine off the lees once fermentation has finished – and only then will we get a proper taste of the final product.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The White Stuff - Part One.....

The original plan had been to pick the Sipon (Furmint) grapes first – and to get the fermentation of our white wine underway before tacking the red. However Sipon is a notoriously late-ripening white variety, and when Sinead arrived the advice was to leave it another week or so to let the sugar levels rise a bit more. It was a decision we were to regret later on…

Back in February, Sinead had travelled out to prune the vines. Most of the older vineyards are pruned in a double-Guyot style – two main sperons, with between 5 and 7 shoots coming off each on which the grapes grow. We had decided to change two of the rows to single-Guyot to compare the yield, and crucially the quality. Sinead was helped by Bozidar from Verus Vinograd (an amazing viticulturist) and the two of them did a great job.

Seven months later, the results were clear to us. As I walked the vineyard with Bozidar, we sampled grapes from adjoining, but differently pruned, rows. 2011 is a genereous vintage of good quality – but the vines with double-Guyot training were laden down with fruit – on average probably between 5 and 6 kilos per vine. The single-Guyot vines were yielding about 2.5 kilos and the grapes tasted fresher, purer and more complex. Ivan, who owns the adjoining vineyard and keeps watch over our own vines when we’re not there, had followed the “experiment” with interest. He is a traditionalist and was concerned about the drop in yield – his generation were paid for quantity, not quality, by the local co-operative.

Miro and I decided that we would harvest the Sipon on Friday 30th September – the juice showing a promising 90 Oechsle. At 7am we picked the two rows of single-Guyot vines into small plastic crates. In a high-yielding year aromatics and freshness can be compromised, so Sinead had suggested we leave the grapes in their small crates overnight in Miro’s cellar to see if any additional aromatics could be gained following picking.

On returning from Miro’s cellar, having deposited the crates, I was confronted by a very angry Ivan. He had visited our vineyard and was aghast at the fact we had left grapes on the vines and, even worse, that we had discarded bunches on the ground. He was very upset – feeling that all his work during the rest of the year had been worthless. I tried, through the magical international language of arm waving and bad German to explain that we had just selected the best grapes, and that there was plenty to go around – but all to no avail. He stormed off, vowing never to return, repeatedly saying what we had done was “criminal”. It was a slightly unexpected start......

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Red Stuff - Part Three....

If we were worried about nutrients and temperature before, now we had even more cause for lengthy analysis. By taking away the skins, and putting the juice into a colder cellar, we had set our yeast friends a pretty hard task to finish the job of fermentation. Things slowed down even more, and a week later I chickened out and agreed with Miro that we needed to try raising the temperature a bit – a stuck fermentation is not something that you really want. On the other hand, do you really want one of these things stuck into your wine?

So we raised the temperature by 2 degrees to 18.5 Celsius – but no nutrients were added. It seemed the yeasts were just happy to plod along – and if they were happy, I was happy.

In the middle of all this, I had contacted a winemaker called Roland Velich based in Burgenland, Austria. He’s the man behind the Moric wines and to say that he is passionate about Blaufrankisch (Modra Frankinja) would be an understatement. We arranged to go and taste with him. The visit warrants a separate report, but suffice to say briefly that the wines stunned us. Comparisons have been made to Grand Cru Burgundies, and although there are definite similarities in terms of texture and mouthfeel, the wines showcase the unique characteristics of low-yielding Blaufrankisch – wonderful dark, sour cherry fruits with amazing floral aromas and multi-layered palates that leave you still tasting, and savouring, the wine minutes later. Yet they are not blockbuster wines – they are elegant, poised, precise and utterly seductive. We spent 4 hours tasting and talking about just 6 wines – and the 6 hour round-trip journey was well, well worth it. We returned to Slovenia inspired!

Back in Miro’s cellar our own MF was moving at a glacial pace – but we were happy to leave it that way. The question of what we would do next loomed on the horizon and the question of barrels arose. Miro had some old oak – 5th use – barriques and we decided we would move the two batches of Free Run juice into them and then could also continue to compare their evolution in barrel.

Cleaning barrels is a slow, challenging process. I had attempted to clean them myself, but wasn’t happy with the aromas that remained from their previous use. Miro intervened and after a few hours with a steam cleaner, many cold water rinses and lots of “juggling” the barrels to slosh around the water later, we had two useable barrels.

Yet this decision was my one crisis of confidence. For whatever reason I really wasn’t happy about putting the wines into barrels. I had grown used to their respective flavours and really enjoyed the “clean” fruit-forward style of the wines combined with refreshing, clean acidity and fine tannins. I wasn’t really sure of I was ready to wave goodbye to them - it was like watching a child become a teenager – not really sure how they were going to evolve.

As if my own lack of self-confidence about what we were doing wasn’t enough, we encountered another problem. And here’s a Top Tip for any budding winemaker: always know what size your barrels are before you start filling them! Sounds simple….. but a 220 Litre barrel can look amazingly like a 250 Litre one – particularly as they can all be different shapes.

We always knew we would be a little short on Steel Free Run juice to fill one of the barrels, but we were going to top it up with some Press juice. However as the steel tank emptied and the barrel showed no signs of being anywhere near full, we realised we had made a fundamental error in calculating the size of the barrel. That sinking feeling was horrible. Not only had we moved the wine (exposing it to oxygen and giving the hard-pressed yeasts yet another challenge), we were left with a batch of wine that, left that way it was, would certainly degrade. Stupid, stupid, stupid – and I cursed the moment we had decided to move the wine – I should have left it to Sinead who was due back in a week – and then it would have been her problem!

But one person’s misfortune is often another person’s gain – and it was off to the local toyshop in Ljutomer to buy some glass marbles. Not just a bag or two – but 50kg of marbles. They can be put into the barrel and used to raise the fill, ensuring that you have a “full” barrel. My request was met with a combination of surprise (I think they definitely thought I was mad) and the desire to sell me more marbles in a single day than they probably sell in a year!

As I write this, the marbles are on order and will be cleaned and added to the barrel in the next few days. The wine in that same barrel is still fermenting – slowly as ever – but the yeasts have hung on in there and are almost finished – some 3 weeks after starting. And the wine is truly delicious – honestly!

In the back of the car are some small jars of samples of each wine for Sinead to try when I get back. She’ll then go back out next week to finish off a few things and put the wines into hibernation for the winter. And also to make some “Champagne”……!

Oh yes, and we did make some white wine too. More to follow……

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Red Stuff - Part Two..

It’s clear to me at this stage that winemaking and blogging don’t go together – one has to suffer. In this instance, it has been the blog. As I was wound my way through the vineyards early on Thursday morning, there was frost on the ground – it seemed almost unbelievable that only 10 days before the daytime highs were 28 Celsius, dropping to 15 Celsius at night. Now, well into my journey home, and on the distinctly un-wine friendly ferry to Rosslare, it all seems so long ago……

But we left off with having pressed the first batch of naturally fermented Modra Frankinja just as it came to the end of fermentation – a relatively quick 7 days and we were concerned that the tannins and extraction would only increase if we left the juice in contact with the skins for longer.

On the other hand, our second batch of Modra Frankinja that we had cold-soaked for 3 days to allow for aqueous extraction prior to fermentation was only just beginning its long journey to alcoholic adolescence.

The flavour of both was quite different: the MF that had been naturally fermented in an open plastic “box” had bright, crunchy red-fruit flavours – similar in some ways to a young, fresh Pinot Noir. The Steel tank of cold macerated MF was obviously still sweet to the taste, but the fruit characteristic was very different: this time more black fruits, more like a blackberry fruit compote, and was inky purple in colour – much darker than the others. It had an amazing dark core of fruit – like a vinous black hole, that sucked you deeper and deeper into layers of flavour.

Over the coming days, this tank of fermenting juice just worked away slowly – causing us both delight and frustration. The temperature rarely topped 22 Celsius, which is low, and the sugar levels dropped very slowly. Many discussions were had – and many opinions offered – did the yeasts need some nutrients to help them along, did we need to raise the temperature?

I think one of the biggest challenges of being a winemaker is to have conviction in your decisions. If you have any self-doubt (note: this does not imply you need arrogance), then winemaking isn’t for you. The activities in the cellar (let alone the vineyard) are all based on making decisions to deal with an ever changing situation – that only previous experience can at least help you to try and judge the impact of your decision. You only get to do this once a year – most winemakers might be lucky to do it maybe 30 times in a lifetime – and those decisions will resonate for the next 12 months until you get to try it all again. A clear head – and clear thinking – is required.

And for me, staring into our little 250 litre steel tank of slowly bubbling MF, those decisions seemed just as relevant as if I was dealing with a few thousand litres. To me (and Sinead) we wanted to try and watch the process unfold as “naturally” as possible. To be clear: I don’t regard adding nutrients or raising the temperature as being un-natural – just that if you do them, you won’t know what would/might have happened – and we needed to learn.

In the meantime, another important decision was pending: as the fermentation was proceeding, the tannin levels were becoming more prominent on the palate. Yes, there was still sweetness, but behind the gloss of sweet, juicy fruit, the chewy tannins were appearing. We therefore took a decision to press this batch midway through fermentation – two days later than the “Box” batch, but at a much earlier point in the fermentation cycle. Sugar was still at 60 Oechsle – so it still had a way to go. We bled off all the free run juice on Saturday 1st, so it had had a total of 9 days maceration. The subsequent juice from the press was then added to the other press juice from the open “Box” fermentation.

So now we had three batches: Free Run from plastic open Box fermented, Free Run from cold macerated Steel fermented and a tank of combined Press Juice from both.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Waiter, There's an Alien in my Fermentation Tank....

It's in there somewhere.....

Amazing what a bit of yeast and wine must can do! If the tanks all have slightly different fill levels, you can get a tune..... maybe.....

Many thanks to Samo and Lela for the video - I think Samo got up in the middle of the night to film it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The View From The Press

Most wine-related pictures tend to focus on shots of beautiful vineyards. And with good reason - partly because they are indeed beautiful - and also partly because the winery itself can often be an ugly lump of industrialised concrete, or down a backstreet somewhere..

In my humble opinion, Miro has the best Press location I have ever come across. The view as you are pressing the grapes is amazing....

Note the stool for contemplative thinking whilst the Press works away slowly. Many of the world's problems have been solved from this stool..... but I can never seem to remember what the solution was......

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Red Stuff...Part 1

 Back in early September, when Sinead and I were planning our respective trips for the Harvest, the plan was that Sinead would come first to harvest and vinify our own Sipon (Furmint). I would then arrive about 10 days later and harvest and vinify some Modra Frankinja we had agreed to buy, as we don’t have any MF vines ourselves. But Nature again conspired to change things a little and it turned out that the MF reached optimum maturity earlier than the Sipon, so Sinead found herself immersed in sticky red stuff rather than sticky clear stuff!

We have been interested in Modra Frankinja for a while now. Known more commonly as Blaufrankisch (in Austria where it is planted more widely) it is a variety that we believe has great potential here in the clay-dominated soils of Jeruzalem. It is a late ripening variety, with vibrant fruit aromas of sour cherry, fruits of the forest , herbs and spices. On the palate it is savoury, with an elegance not dissimilar to a hypothetical blend of Barbera and Pinot Noir. Some would include descriptors akin to a Syrah, or even Nebbiolo, but our preferred style is the fruit-forward, savoury cherry/plum style. It can handle oak reasonably well, but larger, old barrels tend to accentuate the finer characteristics better, rather than a whack of new oak.

A couple of local producers grow Modra Frankinja and we had been to visit one vineyard back in August and agreed to purchase just over half a ton of grapes at harvest time. Sinead was there on the day (Thursday September 22nd) and ended up with exactly 677 kilos of grapes being dropped off at Miro’s cellars. Quality was excellent, with no rot. Sugar was 91 Oechsle which is bang on the nose for a 12.5% alcohol wine. So things were looking good. Acidity was 5.5 g/l and Ph 3.41.

We had decided in advance that we would vinify it in different batches – primarily to look at how different fermentation procedures impacted on the final wine. The grapes were de-stemmed and split into two batches:
  1. About 250 kilos went into a steel tank that we wanted to undergo a pre-fermentation cold maceration. This would delay the fermentation and allow for a more gentle aqueous extraction (rather than alcoholic extraction during fermentation) of the colour, tannins and polyphenols from the skins. Sinead and Miro worked their wonders with some hosepipes and got cold water circulating through the tank that would keep the must lower than 15 Celsius for the next 3 days. I had also wanted to try gently bubbling some Co2 through the must – something that Emmanuel Rouget told us he did – to try and add some “lift” and “elegance” to the maceration. Again, a make-shift device was assembled and sure enough, some CO2 worked its way through the cold must – until we promptly ran out of CO2!
  2. The second, slightly larger, batch went into a 500 kilo plastic “box” – the way that many local producers would ferment their red wines here – including Pinot Noir. The box is can be covered to protect the must, but can easily be opened for punchdowns. Crucially, this box was also left up at ground level and so settled down at a much higher temperature quite quickly – around 20 Celsius.
Sinead did punchdowns on both batches twice a day. By Sunday 25th fermentation had started in the larger Box – no added yeast, just whatever came in on the grapes. Temperatures during fermentation rose no higher than 24 Celsius and the main part was finished by Thursday 29th – so just under a week from picking to when we decided to Press. At that point we had sugars of about 30 Oechsle (effectively a dry wine) and we decided that we had enough extraction and tannins to proceed with pressing – we didn’t want too much extraction.

Meanwhile, in our steel tank, things were moving a lot more slowly…. in a good way. We had already decided that we would inoculate this batch with a cultured yeast – one normally used for Pinot Noir – again, too see how it would impact on the final wine as a comparison. On the Sunday evening (after 4 days cold maceration) we stopped the cooling and added the yeast. Fermentation took another 2 days to get going, so by now we were about 6 days behind the Box fermentation.

So by the Thursday, from the same harvested grapes, we had one batch (the Box) almost finished the main part of fermentation and being Pressed – and the other (the Steel) just really beginning…. both had punchdowns twice a day, but already it was clear we had two very different wines….


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thrills, Spills and fun with Acid...

Well – I have finally discovered what Twitter is for! The number of times over the past fortnight that I wished I could have tapped a spontaneous Tweet to the listening world (maybe 2 people?) isn’t worth counting. But even if I was technically minded enough, I suppose sticky fingers would have rendered my attempts useless. A Blog seemed like a good idea a while back, but actually getting the time to update it regularly has been a challenge – not for the lack of stuff to write about, but more a case of trying to find the time to do the actual writing….

So it’s Harvest 2011 time. A brief summary of the key background info and characters so far: I’m here in Slovenia – Sinead was here last week and started the ball rolling in a scarily competent fashion. The weather has been unusually warm and sunny, leading to a large, yet high quality, harvest. This is true across all varietals, with Sauvignon Blanc and Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch) doing particularly well. Lower than normal acidity levels are a slight concern. An early flowering and slightly disjointed growing season have led to a few quirks in the final fruit – some slight similarities to the hot 2003 (low acids), yet no burnt characters.

This year, we have decided to go it totally alone and make our own wine. Well, almost. Our good friend, neighbour and great wine producer, Miro has been a great source of inspiration and restrained observation – it’s a bit like being encouraged to go and use a trampoline, to be greeted by a shrug of the shoulders when you ask if you can try a triple somersault (“why not?”), knowing that it could end in failure when you splat yourself on the ground in an ugly mess! And only yourself to blame…

And to complicate matters somewhat (in a good way!), we decided to make not only White wine from our own Sipon (Furmint) vines, but also some Red. We purchased just over half a Ton of Modra Frankinja grapes to try some trials on.

This is the first time I have actually stopped long enough to consider what we’re actually doing (quite scary really) and to scribble a couple of notes.

There have been stand-up shouting matches, endless discussions about various procedures, periods of bewilderment (many, many!), moments of elation and a peculiar desire to continually admit that lack of knowledge is actually more of an asset that too much knowledge – at least that way you can get away with claiming you didn’t realise you were doing something wrong!

So there’s plenty more to follow in the next few Blogs…… but in the interim, here are a few brief thoughts on what I have far...
  1. Although unconventional, always have someone else start the process for you. If it all goes wrong you can blame them… or if it all works out, you can claim you corrected their mistakes! This year, Sinead was here for 9 days before me…. and I arrived very nervous and feeling out-of-my-depth. A few days hard graft and you’re too tired to figure out anything much more that what time you have to get up in the morning.
  2. The nicest, most refreshing treat at the end of a long day in the vineyard or winery is....… a bottle of cold beer!
  3. Acid is your friend – and your enemy. It’s like that girlfriend that wrecks your head – attractive, yet distractingly frustrating. Sugar is easy – it’s a simple compound and you either have it or you don't to start with, and you know it's just going to change into boring old alcohol in a predictable manner. Acidity is an ever-changing multi-faceted beast, manifesting itself in many different ways throughout the winemaking process and the resulting “flavour” of a wine is a complex concoction of many different acids. It comes and goes, rises and falls and trying to get a reasonable grip on it will be a never ending challenge. Men are like sugar, women are like acidity.
  4. Never, ever pick stuck and clogged stems out of the cylindrical “grater” of a de-stemmer running at full throttle. It seems like a good idea at the time (why switch it off – it’ll only waste time?) but trust me, you’ll only do it once. And if you’re lucky, like me, your fingers will get a whack – but at least you’ll still have them….. 
  5. Hindsight is a great thing in winemaking – and there’s always next year….
  6. For all the romantic ideas that winemaking conjures up, cleaning the inside of a pneumatic press whilst accompanied by swarming wasps and fruit flies is decidedly un-romantic.
  7. On the subject of fruit flies, they must have a pretty sad, short life (or maybe it’s just one big, and short, wine-fuelled Party?) but quite literally at the top of the pile of crap wine-making jobs is standing atop of a huge pile of pulp from the presses when another half-ton of hot, smelly, fly-infested pulp is emptied onto it to be raked out. There a literally millions of the buggers… no, they don’t bite, but they crawl inside every part of your clothing and into every orifice in your body. Yes, I know….
  8. Good Music is essential for Good Winemaking. Dodgy Austrian radio stations blaring 1980’s techno-pop will turn your wine to vinegar. Good wine needs Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, Deep Purple, John Martyn and the like…
  9. Yeast – well, that’s a whole lifetime of learning – and I only hope I have enough time left to even get half a grasp on what my little yeast friends need out of life…
  10. Hindsight is a great thing in winemaking. Did I say that already? Definitely worth repeating!

Much more to follow....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Rant about a Rant...

I have been meaning to have a rant about a rant for a few weeks now. But Lidl (and the Irish Times) beat me to it yesterday - Irish Times. So you’ll just have to trust me that I was going to rant about this anyway…

It’s all very well to argue about the origins, ethics and methodology of large producers vs. small producers or the dubious marketing techniques of major retailers – but it can often seem like we (the independent Wine “Industry”) are like the quality, style and trend “Wine police”, telling you what you should and shouldn’t be drinking. Anyone for a glass of “natural” wine while reading this?

Lidl’s decision to offer a “2 bottles for €5” deal yesterday brought everything to a head. It was unfortunate that the Irish Times didn’t get their facts right about Excise Duty (it’s €1.97 a bottle and not €2.72) but even at the lower rate, it’s pretty impossible to source a bottle of wine for around 3 cents, so we can only assume Lidl must have been selling below cost.

It was however hilarious that Conor Pope decided to “review” the wine (“Does it Pass the Taste Test?”) and managed to conclude that it wasn’t actually that nice at the end of the day. WHO CARES? IT’S GOT ALCOHOL IN IT.

And therein lies the problem. The sooner the Wine "Industry" in Ireland wakes up to the fact that it’s not just a middle class drink consumed by people who care if someone has used their bare feet to crush the grapes or not, the better. The simple fact is that it’s a beverage that contains, on average, 12.5% alcohol – and is becoming cheaper by the day.

Wine is the new front-line in the battle to attract a particular demographic of customers who want to buy cheap alcohol. Ever wonder why we don’t see so many promotions for beer or spirits? Mainly because the market is saturated by strong labels who don’t want to devalue their brand too much. But there are literally thousands of hard pressed wine producers out there willing to do a deal to shift thousands of litres of cheap wine – with no brand association other than grape variety and geographical origin. Some of these will appeal to people looking for an inexpensive “Australian Shiraz”, but to many, they are an inexpensive “hit”, delivering a nice “buzz” at a lower price than beer or spirits.

Imagine if we had weekly newspaper columns highlighting “Cigarette of the Week”? Yet we don’t (yet) seem to have that problem with alcohol. Look at Arthur’s Day for example.

But what Lidl (and others no doubt) are doing is pushing Wine as a cheap form of alcohol. And the Wine “Industry” seems oblivious to this. Below cost selling of all alcohol should be banned – not because I’m a whinger and can’t compete with the big boys, but because at the end of the day it’s simply irresponsible to sell something that has the potential to cause massive self-harm in such a way.

And if the Wine “Industry” doesn’t wake up to this reality, then the opportunity to responsibly sell a product that can be wonderful (for many, many reasons regularly highlighted) will be taken away from us by some form of blanket knee-jerk legislation. Quite simply: alcohol should not be sold below cost.

One final thought: if Lidl are happy enough to effectively pay the Excise Duty on behalf of their customers, can you really blame the Government if they increase it in the next Budget? If they see large retailers absorbing it, then maybe the Irish Times’ Excise Duty rate of €2.72 a bottle might not just be a typo, but some form of weirdly accurate prediction.

What Lidl did yesterday was a game-changer – and a very dangerous one for the Independent Wine “Industry” in this country.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's Hot out there...

It has been hot here in Slovenia - very hot! I know that may sound attractive given that Ireland has apparently just had the coldest summer since 1947. Back at the end of July we had about 10 days of relatively cool temperatures - even as low as 10 Celsius at night. At the time, we felt it was probably a good thing as it would allow the vines to slow down a little - they were about 14 days ahead of previous years at that point.

Now the opposite is happening - daytime highs in the shade are as high as 38 Celsius - and at 2am the other night it was 27 Celsius! A local winemaker told us the daytime temperature in amongst the vines (i.e. in the sun) was 63 Celsius! This is not so good for the vines, or the grapes. What seems to happen is that they begin to shut down - there is plenty of water in the soil, but it's just the searing temperatures that are causing them to batten down the hatches. And there's a big difference between slowing down and shutting down - in the case of shutting down, the sugar levels stop rising, yet acidity continues to drop. Not great for the aim of harvesting phenologically and physiolocically ripe grapes.
Grapes tested this morning on the two rows of vines we have "converted" to single guyot do show increased sugar levels - up to an average of 60 Oechsle. But those on the double-guyot vines have slowed, or even stopped - the vines are struggling to deliver sugar to the higher volumes of fruit - and they are still around the 47 Oechsle level.

Of course, the heat brings other considerations. Two things happened to us for the first time - the first we should have anticipated: we left a bottle of wine in the back of the case, only to return to find the cork and bottle separated! And a smell of wine throughout the whole car - should be interesting next time we face a random police check!

The second incident was less predictable. It would seem the heat shattered, or burst, the rear window on our car. At first we thought it must have been deliberately broken, but the detectives among you will notice that the force that broke it came from the inside - and pushed the glass outwards. All the other windows were open - but this one was closed and we guess that the glass must have expanded slightly - and given it was shut tightly, had no other option but to shatter under pressure. It'll be interesting to see what the insurance company says......

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dear Oh Dell....

It's hot and sweaty here, so maybe I'm just a bit grumpy, but.....

I'm a bit of a luddite with many things technical. The computer games I grew up with were "Pong" and, well.... "Pong". But I pride myself on the fact that I have just about mastered an iPhone (although I'm not sure it was worth mastering) and I'm not too bad at some basic networking. We also run all our phones over VoiP with a great Irish company called Blueface and can therefore make "local" calls from here in Slovenia.

Occasionally I miss some calls, but most people then use voicemail - that's what it's there for! I get a bit suspicious when I can look at the call history and see an "unknown" number calling repeatedly, but not leaving a message. Today I happened to answer a call from one of the many recent "unknowns". Turns out it was from Dell - to tell me that the 1 year warranty on a Dell PC I purchased exactly a year ago is about to expire - today. I was told that the "motherboard" might fail, the graphics card could take a heart attack, the processors could seize up (can they seize?) - anyway, all sorts of ailments were about to hit my PC - but of course I could take out an extended warranty (at a special price of course) to protect myself against this Armageddon of computer bad luck that was heading my way as soon as the crappy 12 month warranty expired.

And that's the problem. I can buy a car with a seven year warranty included - and that has thousands of moving parts and will jolt along the Irish roads year after year. But I can't buy a computer in 2011 without the manufacturer being confident enough to offer a warranty beyond 12 months? So much for advances in technology. The only moving part in a computer (I think) is a fan - what's the big deal about making the rest of the stuff robust enough to last with some form of certainly beyond 12 months....?

And as for the people calling continuously to offer this extended warranty with all the warnings of failure, doom and gloom - what does that do for Brand confidence? I'm certainly not that confident about buying Dell again if they're that worried that I really need an extended warranty.

If I were Mr. or Mrs. Dell (is there still one?), I'd get the people off the phones straight away and get them doing something more useful - like working on how to ensure their computers might just make it past their first birthday.......

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Grapes....!

Although we had a patch of rain at the end of July, and some unseasonally cool weather, the vines continue to race ahead - we estimate they are somewhere between 10-14 days ahead of where they were at this stage last year. Reports from around Europe suggest early harvests everywhere, with some producers scrambling back from holidays and frantically contacting casual labour to prepare for the harvest.

Back in our little corner of the world, things are early, but we still have at least 7-8 weeks to go before the harvest for Sipon and Riesling - and a lot can change in that time. Above are samples of the grapes and the various stages that they are at - Laski Riesling on the left, then Sipon, then Muscat (the most evolved) and then...... an interloper! Some delicious Zweigelt (a clone between Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent) - there are a couple of random vines throughout the vineyard - all we have to do is try and keep the deer away from them!

A quick check back to some pictures from the same time last year shows huch much more evolved the grapes are at this point:

August 2010

In particular, the Riesling is much more advanced, even though the vines are towards the bottom of the hill.

Fingers crossed for the next few weeks - just a little tweaking and then a lot of watching and waiting....

Friday, August 12, 2011

They May Look the Same, But.....

Two sets of grapes – the same variety (Sipon), same soil, same vineyard and picked randomly from the same side of two adjacent rows 1.5 metres apart. They may look the same – but they are very different. Back in February, Sinead pruned two of the rows in the vineyard in the single-Guyot method – the rest of the vineyard has always been double-Guyot.

Based on a quick sample this morning, the results are quite dramatic. The grapes on the right are from the single-Guyot sample and have higher sugar at this stage (47 Oechsle) – but also piercing acidity – making them taste more complex and unevolved – but with more potential (so we think!). The grapes on the left from the double-Guyot pruning have lower sugar (25 Oechsle) yet taste “sweeter” and seem to be “simpler” at this point.

It will be fascinating to see how the two evolve over the coming weeks……..

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ffff-ing French Frustration.....

It has rained pretty much non-stop for the past four days here - giving the vines a nice breather from the dry weather. Although it hasn't been unusually hot, we have had a dry patch of about three weeks and the "dry" depth of the soil had increased to almost 40cm. Not a problem for the vines, but a bit challenging for other crops. Providing the rain stops in the near future, all is still looking positive for a very good vintage.....

Whilst it has been raining, I've had a chance to catch up on some internet browsing - peering into my computer screen at the outside world! On one of the Bulletin Boards I came across the link below - originally posted by Tom Cannavan I think.

It's addictive, frustrating, compelling, informative, challenging - and above all, humiliating. And no, it's nothing to do with Britney Spears. Apparently a score of over 50,000 is impressive - but I haven't got that far yet......

French Wine Regions Test

Aarrggghhhh...... I can't stop....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe.....

For an amazing photo gallery of the destruction caused by the Hail, have a look at:
Bizeljsko Hail Photos

Unfortunately the picture below was not taken in January – but last week in the middle of July……

By mid-July things have normally settled down in the vineyard. There are occasional treatments for peronospera (downy mildew) and oidium, some “haircutting” of vines and of course, grass cutting between the rows of vines.

But the one threat that has normally passed by now is Hail. However, last week there was a devastating hail storm that destroyed over 1,000 hectares of crops – vines, corn, apples, hay etc. We were very lucky to escape here in our little corner in the East – but less than an hour away, many of the vineyards in the prime region of Biseljsko were totally destroyed.

The impact was devastating – the size of the hailstones left no room for anything to survive.

Sinead and I passed through the region two days later and took some photos of what was left. Many corn fields were just being ploughed back into the soil. The orchards are destroyed – and the vineyards....... Well, it’s not just a very obvious problem for this year – the issue is vastly complicated by the fact that the shoots for next year’s growth are also destroyed – and it will even impact into growth in two years time. Here in Jeruzalem we suffered very bad hail two years ago in July and there was significant damage – but there is a possible small window of hope – it would seem that this year (two years later) the vines are particularly healthy here – almost as if they have a new lease of life – so it may be that some small scrap of good could come from last week’s hail in Bizeljsko – but it’s difficult to see that at this point.

It’s worth remembering what a vineyard should look like in July – our own….

And then the hail-devastated landscape of Bizeljsko…….the hail is long gone, but the barren landscape remains....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Back to Reality

With the 2010 Primeurs "campaign" now effectively finished (and comments to follow), a timely reminder about value and quality co-existing came by way of reviews recently published for the wonderful Sicilian wines of Azienda COS in the recent Wine Advocate - the same publication that awarded (along with numerous others) high scores to the Bordeaux 2010 vintage - leading to dramatic price increases.

COS were the very first European producers that we started importing a long time back......We have the 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria in stock and it remains one of our favourite wines at home, so nice to see it get some credit - so long as the price doesn't rise! Well done Giusto and the team!

2008 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico

"The 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico flows with the essence of dark wild cherries. It possesses beautiful inner perfume and density, without coming across as heavy. The long, pure finish is beautifully articulated with layers of fruit. It is a sensual red that takes Cerasuolo to new heights. The Cerasuolo is 60% Nero d'Avola (aged in cask) and 40% Frappato (aged in cement). Anticipated maturity: 2011-2015. 91 Points.

This is quite possibly the finest set of wines I have ever tasted from COS. Readers owe it to themselves to check out these ambitious wines, many of which also deliver phenomenal value." Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate June 2011 (

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bordeaux 2010 and Football - the Missing Link.

In between pruning the vines, I have been keeping an eye on the Bordeaux 2010 Primeurs releases. We have been buying en-Primeur for the last 15 years and now Twitter and 3G Internet access have revolutionised the process - I can have the secateurs in one hand and an iPhone in the other! Whilst pruning the vines on Thursday morning, I managed to spend the equivalent purchase price of 2 hectares of vineyards on just 5 cases of wine!

The quality of the 2010 vintage has attracted much attention – deservedly so – and the wines will provide much pleasure in the years to come. But almost as much has been written about the state of the “market” and whether or not there’s a “bubble” in the prices. The much touted reason is that the Chinese are hoovering up vast quantities of Chateau Lafite (and other wines) creating rapidly increasing prices – Chateau Lafite 2008 has jumped from €180 a bottle en-Primeur to a current price of around €1,500 a bottle. If you’re an investor, then that looks like a pretty good return – and the spotlight has inevitably fallen on wine as an investment commodity.

The important thing to note about the Lafite example is that those increases took place after the wine had been released onto the market. A classic example of how supply and demand result in price variations. It’s also a good example of why to buy en-Primeur (ideally for drinking, not investment) as the wine should never be as inexpensive as at the opening release price.

However it’s difficult for the Chateaux owners – and these are mostly large corporations - to look at the increasing prices and not want a part of them. If the market places a value of €1,500 on a bottle of Lafite 2008, then why not release the 2010 close to current market value? And it’s not just Lafite – most Chateaux owners have looked at the current market prices of their wines and said “I want some of that action” and have steadily increased their release prices each year – estimating the maximum price that they can extract from the market on release and effectively taking all the potential for further short or mid-term increases out of the market.

So does this mean a “bubble” is emerging and prices will collapse? To be honest, I don’t think so – but let’s look at some of the potential pitfalls first…

a) Everyone wants a bit of the action:
Let’s say you produce 100 cases of wine annually, and you see that historically the value increases over time. You have had a couple of recent good vintages (we have had 4 Vintages of the Century in the last 10 years alone) and your bank account is very healthy. You decide you don’t need to sell all of your latest, greatest vintage and you can keep some back to benefit down the road when prices “definitely” increase. So you release just 50 cases to the Negociant. They in turn also want a part of the action, and sell only 25 on to their customers. There’s a mad scramble as so little stock creates big demand – and prices increase quickly. Bingo – everyone is happy! Except for the fact that 75% of the stock hasn’t sold fully through the system.

b) The undue influence of Critics:
I say “undue” possibly unfairly as critics play an important role in guiding purchasing choices. However, with Bordeaux Primeurs, their reviews are published in advance of any pricing on the actual wines, allowing the Chateaux owners to directly price their wines in relation to a correspondingly positive score. Except that the 100 point system favoured by the most influential critic, Robert Parker, has effectively become a 5 point scale, with the world clamouring for those wines that are in the top echelon of quality. Score 89 points (a very good wine) and you can forget about a price increase – score 96-99 points and you can bank an extra 30% on the previous year’s prices. So en-Primeur purchasers chase this top tier – and of course the prices rise for these select wines – and everyone is happy again!

c) The cost of financing:
The prices for the 2010’s currently being released are staggering across the bora d- it is the most expensive new vintage release ever. A decade ago the cost of 10 cases of Lynch Bages was about €3,500 – this year it’s about €12,000. Multiply that by the number of sough-after wines and the desire to hold some stock to benefit from “definite” future price increases and you soon see there’s a huge amount of money tied up in the system. The potential for the whole system to collapse is there if it were to fail at one point along the chain. It takes almost 10 times more capital to finance an en-Primeur campaign now as it did ten years ago – and that’s at Negociant and retailer level. If you take on too much stock and then can’t sell it, you’ll be looking at a very big bill. The stakes – and the risks – are high.

So what about the so-called “Bubble”?

What if any of the above was to go wrong – a Negociant defaults, or people continue to chase an ever diminishing group of top-tier wines at top scores? There would certainly be a hiccup (and some very angry customers), but would the whole system collapse? I don’t think so. The “slack” would be quickly taken up by someone else taking advantage of another’s misfortune. Wine – at a certain level – is becoming a brand-driven luxury commodity. The anecdotal feedback about the Lafite effect in China is that at the very top level of business, it simply wasn’t acceptable to put anything else on the table to celebrate the conclusion of a business deal other than a bottle of Lafite. These wines are in the same league as sought after artists, watches, car producers etc. Except that they are consumable – making them ultimately even rarer. Is it realistic to think someone would pay €1,500 for a bottle of wine? Absolutely – there are plenty of people in the world for whom this is not an excessive price – think caviar, perfume – plenty of examples of highly priced one-off consumables.

So rather than there being the danger of a price “Bubble” that will ultimately burst, I think we will see a significant change in the way wine is sold.

Anyone remember the uproar when the Premier League was established? There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing from the average football punter. But there were two significant factors at the time: a group of teams that felt they were better than the rest and crucially, the financing in the form of Rupert Murdoch to support the breakaway. Free-to-air coverage of the best teams became a thing of the past, and people said no-one would pay to see something they had previously got for free. But today, millions happily (well maybe not happily) pay Sky to watch Premier League football on TV.

So how does the football analogy apply to wine and pricing? The key factor not mentioned so far in relation to wine has been the new arrivals into the equation – the Investment funds that are apparently buying up huge quantities of the top wines. Unlike Negociants, they don’t have lots of smaller individual customers to keep happy – they just have lots of money, buy big chunks of wine from a limited group of “Brands” and then release them back to the market at a later stage through the broker system. These are the Rupert Murdochs of the wine world.

My belief is that these Investment funds will ultimately take the role of the Negociants in relation to the “Premier League” of wine producers – the First Growths, Super Seconds etc. These Chateaux will break away from the Negociant system and deal directly with the Funds – that’s 20% saved immediately! They don’t need critics’ reviews to influence their buying decisions – they are buying existing Brands in their own right.

The rest of the Chateaux owners will all eventually settle down and realise that their wines aren’t Bugatti Veyrons, Hermes bags or Patek Philippe watches. They will (finally) understand that they need to offer value to the purchaser. They will still deal with the Negociants, and retailers will still buy from the Negociants and sell them to you at reasonable prices. As yes, they will rise (and occasionally fall) in price much as they do now. Instead of Third, Fourth and Fifth Growths, we’ll have Third Division, Fourth Division etc.

In the Premier League of wine, the Investment funds will effectively manage the assets of the top Chateaux and slowly drip-release the wines to those that can afford them – creating sustained rising prices and continued demand. Every so often, one or two Chateaux will be promoted and demoted – and it will be fun to watch from the sidelines!

Bubble? No, just two very different Leagues emerging… and an exciting game to watch……

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Groundhog Day(s)

Another long journey – but at least this time the train driver didn’t get lost (yes, it can happen….We Made It) and we arrived back in Slovenia on Saturday. Much to the delight of the kids, we went straight to a Wine Fair! The Salon Jeruzalem is the annual presentation of the new vintages by the key local producers.

Actually, the kids weren’t delighted at all – and proceeded to start running amongst the producers playing “kill the sibling” much to the bemusement of everyone else who seemed to have sensibly left the kids at home. We got to taste briefly with a few producers (most notably some excellent Rieslings from a producer new to us, Emile Trop) and then we decided that not only did we look like errant parents, but also we were beginning to act like them. So goodbyes were said, promises were made to follow up with visits and we headed off.

Twenty four hours later and I was sweating in the vineyard, wielding a pair of secateurs and waving them fiendishly at the worried-looking vines. Sinead had been over in February for some pruning and had decided on the spur (no pun intended) of the moment to change a couple of rows from double-guyot to single-guyot, so it took a little while to get my head around what I was actually looking at! A bit like riding a bike after a long break – you know you can still do it, but the fear of publicly falling off keeps the adrenalin pumping.

Much, much more to do over the coming days….

Friday, May 27, 2011

May News

It has been particularly busy over the past few weeks - with some nice logistical challenges!

We try not to ship any wines from producers during June, July and August to avoid any chances of heat damage. Try rattling around in the back of a truck for three days at 35 degrees Celsius and you'll know how a bottle of wine feels! It's one of the aspects of the wine business that is rarely discussed, but unfortunately many of the bottles that make it into our cellars or onto our tables are often exposed to extremes of temperature during shipping. Of course, there are ways of mitigating the impact of temperatures - for example using a refrigerated truck (or "reefer") during the Summer, but booking one is the easy bit - ensuring that the unit is actually switched on by the driver and running continuously (they use a lot of fuel!) is another challenge altogether. The best option is to try not to outdo Nature and just ship the wines when they shouldn't come to any harm. So new arrivals have been piling up in the warehouse as follows............

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey 2009 Vintage:
We raved about these wines following our visit with Pierre-Yves last November and our allocation has just landed. Those of you who purchased some as part of the Burgundy 2009 Offer will hear from us next week about delivery. For those who didn't, we have a little left of his wonderful St. Aubin 1er Cru "Champlots" 2009 @ €35.99. This is exemplary White Burgundy with clean, cool precision - from a vineyard on the Puligny side and similar in style.

Weingut Kunstler 2009 Vintage:
These arrived a short while ago and have already made it into the Irish Times "Wines of the Week". The 2009 Hochheimer Herrnberg Riesling Trocken 2009 @ €19.99 demonstrates just how good dry German Riesling can be - and has found many new friends.

Jacques & Nathalie Saumaize 2009 Vintage:
Another recent arrival already featured as "Wine of the Week" in the Irish Times - their St. Veran "en Creches" @ €18.99 has lots of lovely pure, supple Chardonnay fruit balanced by citrus and lime ripe acidity. We have been doing plenty of tastings in the hotels and restaurants we also supply, and this is consistently one of the "wow" wines.

Verus 2010 Vintage:
For any of you who read our various Blogs about the 2010 Vintage in Slovenia, you'll know the story behind the Pinot Gris 2010 @ €18.99 (and the other Verus wines) - essentially very small crop, heartbreaking selection (in terms of what had to be rejected) - and stunning quality at the end of the day. And yes, the recent vintage has also had it's 15 minutes of fame in the Irish Times too!

Istenic Sparkling Pennine:
It would be so much easier if we could just call them Champagnes.... the French must have had something to do with that.... Anyway, for the delicious Istenic Cuvee No. 1 @ €24.50 take a majority of Chardonnay, throw in a bit of local Rumeni Plavec and use exactly the same methods as the production of Champagne - time, cost, effort etc. - and you end up with a stunning "Champagne" that tastes great and is a good conversation piece. It's made by a ex-goalkeeper (hence the name Cuvee No. 1) and he's been at it for 40 years - acknowledged as the best around. Irish Times? Yes, it was there as well...

Chateau les Miaudoux 2010 Vintage:
This isn't a new name - we have been working with Gerard and Nathalie Cuisset for 10 years now - but it is the arrival of the new vintage of their Bergerac Sec. Sometimes one's relationship with a wine ebbs and flows - and then something comes along that makes you sit bolt upright and take notice! Their Bergerac Sec 2010 @ €11.99 is simply delicious - like biting into a chilled, crunchy Granny Smith apple - the tangy blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon works perfectly and this has been flying out of the warehouse - predicted to be one of our biggest Summer sellers.

So, apparently the weather is going to get much better next week and be really nice for the Bank Holiday next weekend - according to the wonderful Jean Byrne last night. Now I'm not great at predictions (I didn't even know the world was supposed to end last weekend), but it does seem like a good opportunity to put together a mixed case of these delicious news arrivals. At the very least, we can guarantee you'll enjoy the wines!
May Mixed Case Offer:
2 x bottles Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St. Aubin 1er Cru "les Champlots" 2009
2 x bottles Weingut Kunstler Hochheimer Herrnberg Riesling Trocken 2009
2 x bottles Jacques & Nathalie Saumaize St. Veran "en Creches" 2009
2 x bottles Verus Pinot Gris 2010
2 x bottles Istenic Cuvee No. 1 Brut NV
2 x bottles Chateau les Miaudoux Bergerac Sec 2010
Normal Price = €260.90
Offer Price = €199.00 including delivery

Bordeaux 2010 Primeurs:
The great Bordeaux 2010 Primeurs Steeplechase is underway, with the Chateaux currently releasing the prices of their wines. The only problem is the pace - so far it has been one of the slowest campaigns in history, with only a fell well-know names having released at the time of writing - and almost all the Classified Growths still playing their cards very close to their chests. There's no doubting the exceptional quality of the vintage - universally acclaimed as being equal, but stylistically very different (more structured and potentially longer ageing) to the luscious, seductive 2009's. However the 2009's were released at very high prices, and although they sold very well, no-one is sure what appetite there is for a second highly priced vintage in a row. So there's a lot of caution going on: no-one wants to undervalue their wine and release too cheap, but equally they don't want to mis-judge the market and see their wine find no takers and languish in their cellars for years to come. One things is certain: the Chateau owners need to remember that the whole reason en-Primeur works is that it should be an opportunity to acquire wines at a cheaper price than when they are eventually physically available in 2013 - otherwise there's no reason to tie up money for 2 years.

From Bordeaux 2010 to BIB! I have blogged various opinions on the whole issue of Natural Wines, Organic wines etc. - and the various discussions will doubtless continue. We are also beginning to hear quite a bit about "carbon neutral" wineries. However one key aspect of the wine industry that many forget is the carbon footprint that the transport of the wines leaves - back to shipping again! If there was a product that meant less packaging, less weight on a pallet and easier to recycle packaging - then surely we'd all embrace it? Well, maybe.... Let's be honest, bag-in-box wines don't have a great reputation. But what if the wine was EXACTLY the same as inside a regular 75cl bottle of award-winning wine - but just cheaper and more environmentally friendly?

We are now taking a number of our wines in bag-in-box and so far response has been very positive. They are mostly sold to restaurants and hotels who serve by the glass, but if you're having a party or BBQ, they might be worth considering - here are a few figures to consider:
Clos Petite Bellane (one of the Red Wines of the Year):
By the single bottle = €13.99 / by 10L bag-in-box = €8.70 equivalent
Domaine Grauzan (award-winning Languedoc wines):
Grauzan Chardonnay by the single bottle = €10.99 / by the 5L bag-in-box = €7.99 equivalent
Grauzan Merlot by the single bottle = €10.99 / by the 5L bag-in-box = €7.99 equivalent

We'll be back among the vines in Slovenia in the next few weeks with plenty to report.