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September 29, 2005

How To Drink On The Cheap

I went to a Katrina charity tasting the other night hosted by two of my favorite neighborhood establishments- a local wine shop and a lovely restaurant. It was a great night, with good folks, good wines, good food, and a good cause, and I happily ponied up the dosh to be a part of it. And at the end of the night, it was a bargain for what we had- I got a to taste a great variety of wines, most of which would have been priced more per bottle in a restaurant than what I paid for the whole night.

But there are bargains, and then there’s free. It's pretty common to see free tastings at wine shops around here. Many shops advertise these on their web sites, offer to add you to their email lists, or have a schedule printed up by the counter. The best of these types of tastings give you a chance to put things into some sort of context- comparing wines from a specific region, wines that are made from the same varietal, or various wines from the same producer.

In addition to store tastings, there are wine dinners, special events open to the public, and "to the trade" events. Sites like www.localwineevents.com can help immensely. They've got RSS feeds for dozens of different cities. Stick whatever's closest in your aggregator.

Often, the dinners and special events are pricey. But sometimes they’re worth the indulgence, and often they’re a bargain of sorts- often for just a bit more what you’d pay for a nice meal and a nice bottle you’ll get to try a larger variety.

But the “to the trade” events can be killer. Hundreds of wines, and generally free. Got a blog? Head to your local print shop and make some business cards. Voila, you're trade. Start crashing those portfolio tastings, and learn to spit!

Posted by at 4:47 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

Matthew Jukes

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I just bought my copy of "The Wine List 2006", by Matthew Jukes, published by Headline Books.

This is the fifth edition and really is a must-read for all wine lovers, guiding the reader to Matthew’s top 250 wines of the year.

Matthew, who’s been following Stormhoek since our first harvest in 2003, writes:

Stormhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2005– Jump on board, take a ride, yeah! This is a wickedly refreshing wine, with more get up and go than many bottles twice the price. Lemon sherbet and crunchy, ice-cold grapefruit juice jostles for position on the palate and the finish is a live wire – crackling with 10000 volts. Also, If you remember the entry for Stormy’s Pinot Grigio last year. You will be pleased to hear that it is back and looking fitter and foxier than ever.

Stormhoek Select Rose 2005– With a Shiraz/Pinotage frame which is refreshed with all manner of other bits and pieces Stormy Pants Rose was the rock ‘n’ roll hit of The Wine List 2005. The 2005, with much larger distribution, is ever finer – capturing the vital redcurrant essence aroma, staggering élan on the palate and a healthy dose of S&M spanking acidity on the finish. If you missed out on tasting this wine last year, then shame on you! Make up for it this year and you’ll see what all the furore is about.

The Storm Sangiovese Merlot 2004– A beautiful wild cherry aroma, with raw, tangy edges of liquorice root and mint leaf around a central abyss of opaque black fruit. What happens next? Do you walk into the eye of the storm?

Matthew Jukes is one of the most influential wine writers in the UK. I understand that to compile his list, he had to taste 25,000 wines. In other words, Stormhoek made his Top 1%.

So yes, all of us at Stormhoek are stoked. Huge kudos, Matthew, and all power to your pen!

Posted by nick at 11:50 AM | Comments (2)

Christmas Hampers

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One of our customers, Define Food and Wine in Cheshire are doing a lovely line of Christmas hampers with Stormhoek in them.

Of course, other wines are included as well, but it's nice to be thought of.

Posted by nick at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2005

Awesome Neighbors

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[The protea nerifolia bush regenerates through fire. The seeds require scorching and forest fires have swept through the Western Cape regularly, for millennia, from long before the arrival of mammals.]

I’ve been living in this stormy corner with my wife and a couple of dogs for 8 years. For us, that’s quite a while. We have a vineyard growing down below the house that was planted in 1910. Some of the oaks around the house have been here for more than 150 years. But people have been here for much longer than that.

We have a collection of carefully fashioned hand axes picked up in the vineyards that shows humans have been making house here for more than 40,000 years.

Overlooking all of this human endeavour, from every vantage point on the surrounding hills, the beautiful proteas have watched us all come and go, for hundreds of thousands of years, generation by generation.
This year, just like every other one, there are millions of these four to six inch blooms on the steep slopes beside us where no plough has ever been, a carpet of dense olive green, peppered with countless red and white dots.

This south west corner of Africa is called the Western Cape, referring to the Cape of Good Hope, is home to more types of indigenous plants than any similar-sized area on earth. At least 70% of the 9600 plant species of the Cape Floral Kingdom are found nowhere else on earth. It is a global biodiversity asset of great importance and is a World Heritage site.

We are in the foothills of the Limietberg mountains, adjoining the Nature Reserve, with a handful of vineyards developing their leafy canopy and embryonic bunches, surrounded by the pre-historic beauty of fynbos-clad towering mountains.

And we often forget how lucky we are.

Posted by graham knox at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2005

Tough Going

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Have you ever looked at a tree growing out of a crevice in a rock (sometimes over a near-vertical cliff face), forcing space for its existence and wondered about the drive for life?

At Stormhoek, we have hundreds of little vines rooted in the broken shale soil on the upper reaches of a 40 degree steep slope. These vines struggle to find moisture and nutrition among the stones and grow very slowly.

Some of these vines will only reach and grow along the bottom wire of the supporting trellis system this spring when they will be 6 years old. Next year, if all goes well, they will have their tiny first crops.

Now that these, our hardiest vines, have reached the first target wire, I want to follow their progress with a digital camera.

I will take you through the next few months, giving you a supporter’s view as we watch one tough customer grow her spring foliage, try to produce her first grapes and then ripen them.

I should add that 99.9% of all of the vines in the world are planted in soils that allow them to grow to mature height and produce a small crop in 3 years. They become fully productive members of the wine-producing, grape-bearing vine family during the following year, producing many pounds of grapes per vine.

Our struggling little lady will probably only reach maturity at 8 years and will always produce less than the average.

If you get to visit us at harvest time, you’ll be able to taste the intense, vibrant flavor that the grapes of slow-growing, long-living vines have. Then you’ll know why we do it.

Posted by graham knox at 8:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

is it working?

It seemed to me recently that a lot more people have been talking about Stormhoek, but I thought to myself, is it just me or is it real?

Being from a retail background, I was trained to ignore the anecdotal and rely on hard facts and figures. It occurred to me (over a bottle of our soon to be released barrel fermented 2004 Semillon, sorry no freebies on this one, there is only 300 cases) that there is a way to quantify this idea, and I encourage you to try it for yourself.

I went to Technorati and searched "South African Wine". There were about 4550 responses that came back. I took a sampling of them and eliminated the ones that were not about wine, but just mentioned South Africa and Wine.

Only about 29% of the posts were actually about South African wine.

However of those posts, fully 25% of all the blog posts worldwide were about Stormhoek. So, it appears that we are getting more than our fair share of the conversation about South African wine. Now, if we can only make that a percentage of all wine...

Posted by nick at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

5-7-5

Wine Tasting Haiku's:

Notes on tasting are
Rarely so entertaining;
A toast to you, Lane.

Posted by at 2:03 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2005

I don't drink enough.

It's an odd sort of a statement, but it's a good lead-in for bringing up tonight's topic.

I'm a wine geek. And I'm hoping to work within the industry. As such, some of my drinking these days falls into the "critical" variety. In my last post, I showed you a passel of sites that can help build your academic knowledge of wine- through them you can become acquainted with regions, varietals, wine making styles, etc. But there's no substitute for experiencing wine directly with your own senses. Hence, my seemingly lush proclamation above. Sometimes, I'll even spit, though I'm sure my writing becomes more entertaining when I don't...

There's plenty of places online where you can get a walk-through of how to critically evaluate wine. And if you're interested in a beginner's reference book to have and to hold, I'll recommend Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple, the second edition of which is coming out in a couple weeks. Her classification system makes a lot of sense to me as a foundation to build on- she focuses on a handful of common and popular varietals, expands to geography and winemaking styles, and throughout reinforces the academic knowledge with solid suggestions of exemplary wines to taste.

Stormhoek presents a great opportunity for the budding wine geek. Granted, for now, it's something that might not be available in your neck of the woods. Nick and the rest of the team are working to bring it to the US, and if you're in a spot to take advantage of Hugh's giveaways, do so. This is a unique phenomenon. All too often, the only time you'll get to compare your tasting experiences with another person is when you see a shelf-talker (the little piece of paper in the store with a quote) from some famous golden palate. Stormhoek's different. I'm not aware of any other particular wine that has had so many different people talking about their experience publicly.

Wine is a great excuse to slow down. Most folks drink wine with a meal, with friends and family, in social settings, etc. So next time you raise a glass, why not seek to put a little more knowledge around what's inside?

Posted by at 5:04 AM | Comments (1)

Tom Wark

One of the wine bloggers that deserves his own special mention is Tom Wark, and his Fermentations site. Happy Anniversary, Tom.

Posted by at 4:20 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

irish blogger's wine freebie rolls in

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The first Stormhoek Irish Blogger's Wine Freebies are starting to roll in.

Here's the skinny from Connor O'Neill:

This is the type of wine I put in the eminently quaffable category. It’s not blow-my-socks off fantastic but it beats all Chilean Sauvignons I have drunk in the past two years. Besting the Chilean giants at their own game is something to be proud of. It is also the best South African Sauvignon I have tried to date.

Negative points? A bit thin and lacking in depth so maybe not brilliant for skulling back whilst watching Green Wing on a friday night but an absolutely perfect partner for food.

To see what other bloggers are saying, please visit the wiki.

[NB: This post was origianlly published on my main blog.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

meet the intern...

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Hiya. I'm Seth, your friendly Stormhoek intern. Nice to meet you. I've been put in charge of finding links. Off we go.

Lots of the so-called "oenobloggers" are of the tasting note variety- these can be a fun way to learn the lingo of the swirl, sniff, sip, and spit crowd. A fun way to play along at home is Wine Blogging Wednesdays, stared by Lenn Thompson at his Long Island focused wine site www.lenndevours.com. Various weekly hosts choose a theme, and everybody writes up their impressions and shares them. They've done everything from Sicilian Reds to Drink From Your Most Local Winery. It's been growing week by week. Hmm, they've never done a WBW where everybody's drinkin' the same wine. Since most of these folks are Statesside, perhaps something to keep in mind for when Stormhoek's ready to do its American promotion?

Recently, Food & Wine did Seven Best Wine Blogs feature, and their recs were pretty good. I especially like Joe Dressner's, though it'd be nice if he set up an RSS feed. I met Joe last Spring at the Polaner tasting, and he's a trip. Joe brings in a bunch of high quality, small production European wines. If you see his company's name on the back of the bottle, you can be assured that the wine inside's going to have something to say.

Another standout mentioned in Food & Wine is www.vinography.com. Alder's a dedicated blogger with a nice balance of tasting notes (the guy drinks lots of grape), comments on the wine world, and original content.

Though his blog ain't a blog, Jamie Goode's The Wine Anorak is a great resource. It's got a ton of quality free content. Before I laid down the dosh for some Serious Wine Books, I used his site for digging a little deeper into regions, the industry, and particular wines. It's a great timesuck while you're wasting time at the office.

I used to browse Wine Spectator's site before they they made you pay for everything. Haven't they read that other Seth's latest thoughts? There's going to be plenty of us geeks who go to buy the mag if we get turned on about wine through browsing the reference portion of their site. I'll begrudgingly admit they might have a vested business interest in not giving away all the latest and greatest news and reviews online that they put into the monthly mag. But reference-level stuff only serves to make a more informed reader. Hard to have a smarter conversation if you've constantly got your hand in the other guy's pocket.

Anyway, if you're looking for more advice, and you want to put your money down, you can also check out Jancis Robinson's site. She's got some free stuff, but the different shading of the icon between her free stuff and pay stuff is nearly indistinguishable for a colorblind guy like me. Frustrating, so I don't spend a whole lot of time surfing her site.

The most powerful man in the biz is critic Robert Parker. He's got another pay-for-content site, but allows Mark Squires to run a discussion board off of it, which is free after registration. You'll find a lively debate in the forums- certainly not all members are in lockstep with the so-called Emperor of Wine.

Finally, someone who gets the whole smarter conversation idea is Sergio Esposito at the Italian Wine Merchants. IWM is a high-end shop in NYC that focuses on a highly-edited selection of Italy's best producers. Their site is a bit tough to navigate, but they tell a helluva story on nearly each of the wines they carry. They're an inspiration.

Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.

Posted by at 12:25 PM | Comments (3)

london geek dinner december 10th

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Robert Scoble and I have planned our second London Geek Dinner on Saturday, 10th December. Maryam will be there too, Hurrah!

Sarah is entrusted in making sure enough women show up.

Also, don't forget the Irish Geek Dinner just before, on November 30th. Both Robert and I will be there as well, with both of us also at Les Blogs in Paris, December 5th and 6th.

Man. Busy fortnight.

[PS:] Yes, Stormhoek will be supplying freebie wine to all three events. No messing around.

[NB: This post was orignally published on my main blog.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:00 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2005

french vineyard blog

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From Loic Lemeur:

Like last year, the famous French Wine family Perrin, behind one of the best wines in the world Beaucastel (96 to 100 Parker ratings depending on the cuvee), let you follow the harvest 2005 on their blog. I'd love to stop everything and try it once for myself. Hum, maybe not I would make mistakes...
Hey Graham, it seems we have some blog competition. Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2005

blogging and our business

Hello,

My name is Nick Dymoke-Marr. I'm the U.K. Managing Director of Stormhoek.

I suppose the question a lot of people will be asking is, why are we bothering with a blog? Why not go with more conventional marketing practices? Why are we listening to this mad marketing anarchist Hugh MacLeod, when we could instead be basking in the re-assuring glow of a famous London advertising agency?

Because if we don't rise above the clutter, we will fail. It's that simple.

Stormhoek is a little winery in a country that is probably one of the least skilled exporters of quality wine in the world. The South African currency is weak and there are day-to-day challenges to their existence that most of the Western world has simply not had to deal with for generations. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Stormhoek is 6,000 miles away from the nearest significant market for their wines.

We are doing something special... making what we believe to be extraordinary wines that are different, doing things in an innovative way, thousand of miles away from our customers. We were faced with the dilemma of how do we communicate what we are all about to markets half a world away, with an embarrassingly small budget.

We don't think like the big guys. We are not big guys. We do not measure ROI on our "advertising dollar". What we do though is answer our phone and field our emails. We talk to our customers and we do look at depletions through our retail clients.

The phone is ringing and the emails are coming in... from people who we have never heard of before and who are learning about the quality of our wines... They are learning this from somewhere, and it isn't from the ads, because we're not placing any.

We estimate that in the last sixty days there have been in excess of 300,000 people who have now heard of Stormhoek through the blogosphere. With that, we are also seeing increased interest in many sectors of the market. Do we believe that people's blogs have driven store traffic?

Possibly indirectly. But what we are certain of is that there is a conversation ongoing in the blogosphere that we both find interesting for all parties concerned, and that it is good for our little winery.

Based upon what we see, we believe that it is inevitable that the 300,000 people will increase by a factor of 10, or maybe even 100. We see our Google mentions have grown from 500 in June to over 20,000 today. Last June at one of the Geek dinners in London, Robert Scoble said the internet has made the world as small as the room we were having dinner in.

This is a comment that rings particularly true for us, as there are now hundreds, maybe thousands of conversations taking place half a world away from our little South African valley.

People are talking about us. They weren't three month ago. There are hundreds of thousands of wineries all over the world. Yet in the U.K., there are only a handful of major wine retailers. In a former life I was head wine buyer for ASDA, the big supermarket chain, where this reality was all too apparent. Believe me, I know how hard it is to get your wine talked about, let alone spotted by the big retail boys, especially with no marketing budget to speak of.

Something is happening. It may be hard to quantify, but that's also what makes it so damn exciting. Meanwhile, I hope you will try our wine one of these days. Thank you.

Posted by nick at 3:32 PM | Comments (8)

hello from graham knox

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[stormhoek country]

My name is Graham Knox and I am a partner in and run Stormhoek's winemaking and vineyard operations here in South Africa, and have lived on this property for nearly ten years. While I was born in Australia, I have lived in South Africa for thirty years. I have written four books on South African Wines dating back to 1976.

Stormhoek's home is a 200 acre vineyard estate in the mountains overlooking Wellington, South Africa. Wellington is about an hour northeast of Cape Town. There are lots of vineyards in our area and we actually live in our very own little valley called “Doolhof” or The Maze. It is part of the magic of where we are and I will write more about that later.

Of course, we grow grapes on our property, but we also have a citrus orchard and ancient towering protea plants growing wild on the land that in some years produce nearly a million stems which are air freighted to flower markets around the world.

The main house in which I and my wife, Di and our two dogs, Thor and Coopie, and our Australian cat, Morgan reside is a Cape manor, originally built in 1840. From the veranda of our home, through the trees you can see the vineyards spread out over our little valley. Some of the vineyards are just about 100 years old, although many of them are youngsters having been planted during the last generation.

Many people do not know the history of South Africa and the fact that wine has been part of South Africa’s history and culture since the 1700’s. The first vines were planted in what is now Cape Town in 1653. In fact when the McArthur brothers brought the first vines to Australia in 1848 (nearly two hundred years later), those vines came from South Africa. Being a bit of a recognized historian on the subject, I will write more about the history of the South African wine later.

Our little valley was first settled two hundred and ninety-eight years ago by (in 1707) a Dutch wagoner who claimed a small piece of the floor of the valley and constructed a home on the same spot where our house now sits. His house burned down in 1839 and was rebuilt the next year.

The first crops farmed were wheat, table grapes, apples, pears and plums. These were subsistence farmers, they were tilling the land in order to feed their families.

For two hundred and fifty years until the pass road was built in 1848 by a Mr. Bain, our spot was sort of the equivalent of the junction of the 405 and I-10 in Los Angeles. The wagon trail from the Cape to the interior of South Africa passed through our valley and over Limietberg Mountain (pic) Today, Bainskloof pass is still the main accessway to the east and diverts traffic away from our hidden valley.

Our winery is located just up the road from the vineyard and it is the spot where we make all of our reserve wines. We have lots of little tanks and barrels and is decidedly low tech.

Posted by graham knox at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

introducing graham, seth and nick

Just a note to say Graham Knox, the guy who runs the Stormhoek vinyards in South Africa will start posting here soon.

Also, look out for Seth Hill, a New York-based wine blogger who's just got on board the Stormhoek train. He'll be posting in the next day or two.

Finally, there's Nick Dymoke-Marr, the U.K. Marketing Director, whose idea it was to get me involved with Stormhoek in the first place.

Me? I'll still carry on posting here and on my main blog, gapingvoid.

We'll see where this leads...

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2005

french freebie

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The Irish Blogger's Wine Freebie should be going out late next week. Please be watching your mailboxes in about 7-10 day's time.

Meanwhile, we are gearing up to extend the freebie thing to France in October.

French bloggers getting South African wine. Should be interesting.

No, we're not expecting to sell a lot wine in France. They already have plenty of their own, which they are rightly very fond of. But setting our low-budget marketing plan against their massive "Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée" system might be a wonderfully educational experience.

As soon as it's ready to lauch I'll let you know. Watch this space.

[Stormhoek homepage etc etc.]

[UNITED STATES:] We're hoping to roll out the US Blogger's Wine Freebie by the end of the year. Looking forward etc.

[NB: This entry was originally posted on my main blog.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)