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November 30, 2005

Cricket is a numbers game

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We have a new winemaker in our team. His name is Koos Bosman and he is an Afrikaans-speaking, English-speaking cricket fanatic who organises everything he sees.
You pronounce his name Koo-us. It’s an abbreviation of Jacobus (in Afrikaans and Dutch that’s pronounced Ya-koo-bus).
Why do we need organizing?
Well, we felt it might be a good idea to have someone like that.
The rest of us have all sorts of other ideas about what’s important.

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November 29, 2005

Disappearing wine

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For weeks I’ve been wondering what I’m going to do when I have to top up the Viognier barrels.
We have a small Viognier vineyard at Stormhoek and we make 3 barrels of wine from the grapes.
Less than a month ago the barrels were completely full.
Now at least 5% of the wine has gone. It evaporates through the oak. It mostly leaves a vacuum, but if you just leave it and don’t do anything about replacing the continually vanishing wine, you’ll have some damage from oxygen contact.
A wine will be ruined by long-term contact with air, so we have to top up the barrels.
But we only have 3 barrels of this variety. I can use one barrel to top up the other two, but then I’m left with a bigger problem in one barrel.
I can buy some Viognier wine from a neighbour who has a lot or I can add some Chenin Blanc, of which we have plenty.
I’ll let you know what I did, next week.

Posted by graham knox at 10:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

News Flash: Most wines do not get better with age.

"Freshness", a key idea behind Stormhoek, is not a gimmick, nor is it simply a sales tool. It is a critical indicator of wine quality, particularly in whites. Please forgive me for the long post, but for those who are interested, I would like to lay out our case for why Freshness Matters.

We’re redesigning our package and there are lots of people expressing their views on what the new Stormhoek pack should look like. The conversation has moved to the “Ultimate Freshness” indicator and while we have not posted about our Unified Theory of Freshness before, now seems like a good time. By the way, we will be publishing a white paper on the subject which will post it when its done.

1. In The Beginning

Winemakers have been on a 30-year intensive journey of improving wine quality. This is especially true of white wines. If we look back to the 70’s there were generally three types of white wine quality produced in the world:

1) The “good” stuff: White Burgundy, mostly barrel fermented, nice and rich in good years. The best ones had lots of flavour.

2) The ‘Other’: Old World types of whites such as Soave, Verdicchio, Frascati, most dry white Bordeaux. etc. These wines were usually 10 –11.5% alcohol, lean, acidic, often oxidized flavourless and not very nice.

3) ‘New World”, Californian or Australian wines that we pretty much like the second group above, but in order to give the wines some flavour, winemakers added lots of sugar before bottling. This made the thin and acidic wines more palatable.


2. Wine Gets Better

Slowly, winemakers realized that in order to make wines that are fruity, ripe and good tasting, instead of adding sugar to the finished wine, they needed to have ripe fruit to start. Historically (and continuing until today in the form of the ‘hang time’ debate) there is a conflict between winemakers and growers in that growers want to pick early (to increase yield and reduce risk of damage from rain, etc) and winemakers want fully ripened fruit -which requires leaving the grapes on the vine longer.

In the early 80’s there was a realization that “great wines are made in the vineyard”. Before that, there was a literal disconnect between nearly all growers and winemakers. Most winemakers simply made wine from the grapes they were given.

So, there developed this quest for getting more flavour in the wine. Riper fruit was the key, but then winemakers turned to other means for enhancing the wine: Oak. Oak, in the form or barrels or chips can be a useful tool. It can add flavour and richness to wine. However in the 1980’s the trend became ‘more is better’ and when combined with very ripe fruit, many ‘quality’ winemakers were producing overly alcoholic (more ripeness equals more alcohol) wines that were very very oaky. There was no fresh fruit, just oak and alcohol.

However, during this time, there were also a group of winemakers, mostly in Australia, that were pioneering the use of “reductive” white wine production techniques. Simply, reductive winemaking is about doing dozens of things along the way from the moment the grapes are picked until the wine is bottled, to ensure that the juice and resulting wine has very limited contact with oxygen. Why? Because all that nice bright, fresh fruit that we like in certain white wines (especially Sauvignon Blanc) is very sensitive to oxidation, and when the wine oxidizes the primary fruit flavours disappear almost immediately. The most consistent expression of this style of wine is found in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Interestingly, there are additions made to the wine, like ascorbic acid, which is basically Vitamin-C, that helps keep the wine fresh-the same stuff lots of people take as anti-oxidant supplements. Yeast cells which are also available as food supplements also have strong anti-oxidative powers.

So, ripe fruit, made reductively with little or no oak became the goal. This is provided bright, fresh, ripe wines that were then bottled and shipped to market.

3. It Becomes All About the Package

The next “challenge’ then arose. Many producers found that after six or nine months in bottle, their nice and fresh wines were not so nice and fresh anymore. Why? The natural corks that were being used were not particularly good seals as air entered the bottles, oxidizing the wine. Also, there was (and is) a huge problem with corks imparting a bad flavour to the wine. This ‘taint’ is particularly easy to spot in fresh white wines.

So, the answer for many was to move to synthetic or plastic corks. These corks promised no corky off flavours and appeared to be perfect seals that would exclude oxygen from the bottle.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, producers found that after six or twelve months their nice, fresh, whites were still oxidizing in bottle. They were just not keeping their freshness as hoped. The fact remains that even under the best of circumstances. Reductively made white wines loose their fresh fruity flavours over a couple of years.

People searched for a better packaging solution and finally came to screw caps. Yes, those old fashioned jug closures were reinvented and today represent the absolute best seal for wines that need to stay fresh and bright. They are easy to use, reseal the bottle in case you don’t finish it and it keeps our wine that we bottle nice and fresh.

4. The Unified Theory of Freshness

So the industry started with thin, oxidized wines in the 70’s. Growing, production techniques and equipment advances in the 80’s and 90’s gave us the possibility to produce nice fresh vibrant wines and then packaging innovations of the last several years have allowed us to deliver the wine to the consumer at its best.

But, there is one thing that the industry has not done... and this is really fundamental to the enjoyment of the wine that so much effort goes into making. The industry has not told the consumer in no uncertain terms, when the wine will be at its best to drink.
Reductively made wines do not last forever. They only have a certain window during which time they are at their best. However, most people have the illusion that all wine gets better (and better) with age. This is only true for a few percent of the wine produced in the world and becomes less true as time goes on.

So, wine grown made and packaged to keep its freshness and our little indicator telling people what they really need to know: When to drink it at its best... Stormhoek’s Unified Theory of Freshness.

Posted by Jason at 5:03 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 26, 2005

A blast of fresh air

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With the exception of the young leaf at top left, all of the other leaves on this previously vigorous cane have been torn or ripped off. If no new shoots grow here, with new leaves, the ability of this branch of the vine to phosynthesise the light and energise grape development will be severely curtailed.

In this stormy corner of the Cape, we have summer winds that blow mostly from the south-east and south-west.
Sometimes the wind comes in from the east (or south-east-east-east) and these create the most damage here at Stormhoek.
Depending on the stage of growth of the vine, the 50 mile an hour east wind can break off the growing stems, rip up leaves, tear away flower petals.
Last week we had a blast from the east and exposed sections of the vineyards have had their highest growing canes stripped of leaves.
Fortunately we are still in November and harvest is still 3 months away.
The vines have deep roots, there is a lot of water in the soil and new shoots will grow to power the development of the vine and its crop. If we get more of this wind in January and February it might be more serious.

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November 24, 2005

Back to Beaune

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On Saturday afternoon I met up again with Matthew who had had a marathon morning visiting five estates around Beaune. We had a beer together and it gave me a chance to get his take on the whole Burgundy thing.

I told him of our experiences that morning. To him, this wasn’t unusual and that there was a healthy group of young wine makers coming through the ranks who would ensure that, not only, the traditions of the region would be upheld but also that the wines of the future would be made in a more accessible way that would appeal to those who have been brought up on super ripe, turbo charged bottles from the new world. He also believes that the somewhat feudal nature of Burgundian society will ensure that the vast majority of vineyards will stay under family ownership.

Matthew’s interest lies in the vast diversity of style that Burgundy is able to create from effectively one white grape, Chardonnay, and, one red grape, Pinot Noir. He also reckons that you can just about rule out the rest of France these days for uniqueness as other parts of the world are doing it better and cheaper. The examples he gave were the Clare Valley in Australia for Cabernet Sauvignon and Swartland in South Africa for Shiraz.

He explained that you only have to look at the layout of vineyard around each tiny village to see that the differences in soil, climate and aspect create this huge diversity. The analogy he used was Puligny-Montrachet, where just outside the village there is a crossroads where you can stand and throw a stone into a grand cru vineyard, a premier cru vineyard, a vineyard which produces AOC Puligny-Montrachet and a vineyard which can only label is wine as Bourgogne blanc. The excitement for him lies in finding out who owns the Bourgogne blanc! It’s the same all over the region he says. People making great wine that we can all afford to drink alongside those we can only dream about.

The next morning we packed our bags and made the long journey back north to reality.

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A morning in Chassagne-Montrachet

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On Saturday morning we met up with Francois Lequin-Colin in Chassagne-Montrachet. He’s a young gun and was in great form as the evening before he had been awarded “Young Burgundian Wine Maker 2005”.

Francois studied wine making at UC Davis in California before working for two vintages in California. His wines are definitely made in a more modern style.

He also explained how hard it was for young people to start up their own production in Burgundy without the family having historically owned vineyards in the region. His father and uncle split up their domaine in 2003 to allow him and his cousin, Bruno to do their own thing. It seems like an inspired move.

He explained that each parcel of vineyard is sold by the ouvree, which is 1/24th of a hectare. The production from each ouvree is one barrel of wine and the value of the ouvree was based on the price of 10 barrels of wine from that particular block. That seems pretty straightforward to me.

The dynamics change significantly when you overlay outside influences.

It has become very fashionable for rich people to own vineyards in Burgundy and the more prestigious the name, the better. Until recently an ouvree of premier cru vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet would cost about 35-40000 Euros. The price today is over 60000 Euros and is expected to escalate further as more foreign money comes into the region.

Bit of a bummer if you have no vineyards and want to make wine. Not bad if your 29 years old, good looking and own 9 hectares. By my reckoning that make Francois worth about 12-15m Euros. Rock on!

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The Hospices de Beaune

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On Friday afternoon we hot footed it back to Beaune to meet up with Meursault producer, Vincent Bouzereau, at the Hospices de Beaune barrel tasting.

I’d better explain what this is all about.

Every year since 1851 a charity auction takes place in Beaune on the third Sunday of November on behalf of the Hospices de Beaune.

Over the centuries people have bequeathed parcels of vineyards to the Hospices and the produce of these vineyards are auctioned by the barrel. The event creates interest from collectors and traders around the world and although the wines are usually sold for inflated prices, it does serve as a marker for both the quality and eventual bulk price for wines of that year.

Everybody can taste the wines that will be auctioned and although it was a bit of a bun-fight it was quite clear that 2005 will go down as a year of high quality.

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Down to Burgundy

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On Friday morning we exited the motorway at Beaune and drove north towards Nuits St Georges. I’d forgotten how small the distances are between the villages. It really is like driving down a wine list.

Our first meeting was at the revered cellars of Comte Georges de Vogue in Chambolle Musigny a property which has been owned by the same family for over 500 years.

There was this strange feeling that we were receiving not wine, but, some holy elixir. I have to say that the wines were very good but at a starting price of £50 a bottle, they need to be. I guess all their stock is sold purely on reputation. It was good to have had the experience to visit this historic domaine but the over-powering sense of reverence left me a bit cold.

We then met young wine maker, Virgile Lignier in the next door village of Morey St Denis. Now, I have to confess that I have been buying his wines for a couple of years, so it was good to finally meet their maker, so to speak. Virgile is a very engaging guy and is clearly on a mission to make wines that can appeal to all tastes and pockets. We tasted all his 2004 red wines from his juicy Bourgogne Rouge all the way up to the awesome Clos Vougeot (one of the most impressive young wines I have ever tasted).

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Visit to Chablis

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Having travelled down last Wednesday, we hit Chablis on Thursday afternoon. Our first visit was at Domaine de Genevres with Stephane Aufrere. He explained, as we tasted his 2004 wines, that Chablis for him is a special region. It has a cool climate with very deep, chalky soils. Ideal for making fresh, crisp wines with the tell tale flinty aromas and flavours associated with the region.

From there we headed into the town of Chablis and went to taste with Christian and Fabian Moreau. Both father and son have travelled widely to other parts of the world and Fabian has worked in New Zealand and California. They fully understand that resting on the reputation of Chablis will not provide long term security and that they have ferocious competition from all around the world for white wines made from their traditional grape, Chardonnay.

Domaine Moreau makes about 8000 cases of wine per year but they bottle and hand sell all of their production and most of it is of premier and grand cru status which commands the highest prices. They have consequently been able to invest in their winery and renovate much of their vineyards. A painstaking process as most of their vines are over 50 years of age. An old vineyard in South Africa would be regarded as anything over about 10 years old.

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November 19, 2005

Little harder than a sugar cube

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This piece of ancient compressed mud from the Stormhoek vineyards contains a broad stream of minerals. This typical rock is soft and brittle, easily accessible to vine roots.

Unlike animals, vines don’t search for food. Their roots grow all of their lives in an endless hunt for water. The mineral content of the water absorbed by the roots provides the nutrition they need.
If the vine is lucky, its roots take in water that has drained through mineral-rich soil.
The most complex soils are those with the widest range of minerals. These soils are sedimentary, created by the draining together of solid fragments of material from many origins, diluted in and carried by water.
They settle at the bottom of a lake or a sea and in time are compressed into rock by the weight of the water.
When this mudrock (shale) is lifted above the water surface by volcanic action, and the now exposed slabs of sedimentary rock are eroded by wind and rain, you are left with soil that has very complex mineral content.
The Stormhoek soils were deposited under water 1000 million years ago and uplifted 450 million years later making them the oldest soils containing vineyards anywhere in the world and presumably, one of the most complex

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November 18, 2005

Off to Burgundy

I'm off down to Burgundy for a few days, with my friends Matthew Jukes, Quentin Johnson, Hamish Anderson and Dion Gunson.

We've got a very busy itinerary, visiting wine makers and vine growers in the region.

It's my first proper holiday in ages. I daresay, it was badly needed.

It will be fascinating to see how the other half of the wine world
lives!

Please see my posts each day for an update on our travels.

Posted by nick at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

Big Whiners

Jose's Thinking about design today on Brand Showdown and had quite a bit to say about how Stormhoek is dealing with the challenge as compared to Daimler Benz. Thanks Jose!

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The 2006 Dodge Charger - a vehicle that has Charger enthusiasts whining about the design to Daimler-Chrysler execs, vs Stormhoek - a south african winery that is using the power of bloggers to design its labels and bottle.

Todays matchup is a no contest, hands down win to Stormhoek. With their web savvy, long tail approach to designing new labels and bottles to hold their fresh tasting wine, these Davids of the wine industry are the buzz of the internet. With Hugh Macleod leading the bloggers charge these South Africans via New Zealand upstarts are stomping the grapes of crappy overdone marketing and making waves of
good wine through the stuffy ranks of the oenophiles . Stormhoek has opened up a public call for new label and bottle designs with a nice cash reward.

Annnnd in the losers corner is the new Dodge Charger, I can hear some of you saying,"I didn't know there was a new Dodge Charger". Well thats the point. The buzz that generated some great sales for the new Ford Mustang design was heralded as a triumph because they created a new vehicle with historic compliments to the old design. Unfortunately Charger fans don't share the same sentiment. This guy was so ticked he started a website and actually got a letter writing campaign to the heads of the project and the company. Read them and it's obvious why Dodge Charger fans are whining and Stormhoek fans are winning.

Your most powerful design team (your customer) is waiting around a corner to either trumpet your success to the world or yell your failures. You better hope they have helped build your new car/wine. Another piece that makes this so powerful is that Stormhoek is a small company that can zig and zag to make changes whereas Daimler Chrysler is so big they are buying companies to stay afloat.

So be small, let your customers be designers, and remember… are you doing something because everyone else is doing it, or because no one else is doing it. Think about it!


Thanks Jose for your vote on our open source view to packaging redesign. It has been said that the future of advertising is internal and this is certainly one of those examples. The exercise has changed what we think our bottles should look like.

Jose wants to know more about where the name came from. Stormhoek means Stormy Cape, in Afrikaans. The word dates back to the 1600's when the Dutch were settling the area. It is strong, memorable and represents a spit of land that juts into the ocean from the Cape of Good Hope. Most of all, we liked it and it dose give a sense of realness to how challenging producing wine is in our stormy corner. Of course, we wanted to avoid the potential of Afrikaans Faux Pas that have been made by many of our neighbors by not using impenetrable names such as boekenhoutskloof and Buffeljags, who first need to offer Berlitz lessons to any prospective western consumer.

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November 13, 2005

Labelling can be good...

It's funny what happens when you start actually having a conversation with people... We started talking about the stuff that matters to us and lots of people have joined in. Stormhoek has been a catalyst for a lot of interesting discussions. Much of it has taken place with and through our friend Hugh Macleod's blog.

If you go back into the last 90 days of blogging, you'll see that the blogosphere's conversations about Stormhoek have ranged from our marketing model to the econometrics of Stormhoek vs. the 28 million spent by Sainsbury's on their Jamie Oliver campaign to BBC blogger Metcalfe accusing Stormhoek of having an unfair advantage over our competitors by blogging (We were especially pleased with that conversation).

But, we continue to want to improve Stormhoek (we are guilty of being a bit... hmm, compulsive about this). For the last few months, we have had some of the best minds in packaging looking at creating a new label - one that expresses the central theme of freshness and communicates that Stormhoek is fanatical about quality, but also embodies the conversation.

Hugh makes that point that its not about the 'frickin wine', but of course it is. His point really is that wine, by definition, is a social catalyst. Think about what happens after you twist the cap, or pull the cork and sit down with your friends, significant other or, better yet, strangers. The conversation evolves.

We decided that the best fulcrum for the development of the label is not our designers studio, but the bloggesphere. So we asked Hugh to bring it to the folks who have expressed in Stormhoek.

In the last 48 hours, nearly 50 people have posted their opinion (and many more by email) and it is clearer than ever that Stormhoek has become about what evolves after the cap it twisted off the bottle. We are happy about that. We would much rather be about the conversation, than just about the beverage. For us, Great Wine is a given. We hope to transcend the wine talk.

So, we talk about Stormhoek's competitors being Apple, Microsoft and Google. Some people don't get it, but our point is that our wine should't provoke any less emotion nor enhance people's lives any less than those brands.

Microsoft chief blogger, Robert Scoble, has now proclaimed Microsoft's real competition: Stormhoek. Of course, Robert talks about competition for share of entertainment dollar. We agree, but there's more: It's about share of the conversation. Tell Bill not to worry. We'll be gentle with him.

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November 4, 2005

The Season’s first flowery nose

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This is how a grape bunch looks before the flowers are fertilized and become fruit
We’ve only had the Cabernet Franc variety growing in a Stormhoek vineyard for 4 years. When it was planted we had no idea whether it would ripen earlier or later than other varieties.
It was a big surprise to see it flower 2 weeks before our current earliest variety, Pinotage.
There are hundreds of these smaller-than-pinhead blossoms of every bunch now. Only a minority will survive the hazards of fertilization (wind, rain, disease, insect activity) to become developing grape berries.

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One in four wine buyers overwhelmed

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Recent research undertaken by Constellation Wines US, (owners of brands such as Mondavi and Hardys), has found that one in four wine consumers find shopping for wine a daunting experience.

The Genome Project, named after the research that took scientists 13 years to identify the 250,000 genes which make up human DNA, surveyed 3500 premium wine consumers and found that there is no such thing as a typical wine shopper.

Instead wine drinkers fall into one of six categories - Enthusiast, Image Seeker, Savvy Shopper, Traditionalist, Satisfied Sipper and Overwhelmed (the category claiming the most members).

Constellation, reckons this "points to new opportunities, and can inspire creative approaches to everything from helpful instore displays to novice friendly wine lists in restaurants".

To participate in the survey, consumers must have spent US$5.00 or more on a single bottle of wine in the previous 30 days.

The research makes interesting reading and the press release can be read here. Wouldn't it be more interesting, though, to be able to read the full report?

It also raises the question as to what a small winery like ours has to do to make the selection of our wines an easy choice for the customer. There are many factors of course, but we firmly believe that "Stormhoek Ultimate Freshness" which clearly shows when our wines can be enjoyed at their very best is not only the most important piece of advice the consumer can receive but also an industry first.

Last weekend at the London Wine Show we introduced "Ultimate Freshness" to hundreds of visitors. These informed consumers loved the idea and their general reaction was that this would make shopping for wine much easier.

There is a common misconception that wine improves with age. This maybe the case for about 2% of the worlds production but most definately not for the rest! The massive majority of wine is at is most enjoyable when young.

We go to a huge amount of trouble to make our wines taste the best they can and it seems absurd to us not to tell the consumer when they will be in their prime.

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