December 23, 2005
Wow! what a year its been. We've proved to ourselves that although we're only a small concern we can still have a voice in an ever conjested world. It's hard to explain in anymore words what this means to everyone involved with Stormhoek. So, many thanks to all who have supported and encouraged us this year, and, may you all have a peaceful Christmas and a very happy New Year.
December 14, 2005
Smoke gets in your eyes
The fire is advancing toward our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. Coming to our rescue, there’s a helicopter (centre pic) and Thor, who is the lean and hungry Great Dane in the foreground.
Just in case you thought I was kidding about the fire, it has worked though the bush and fynbos (proteas and other indigenous flora) on the Groenberg (green mountain) and is in a small river valley within a couple of hundred metres of Stormhoek’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. It is about 400 metres from our house and advancing slowly. There has been no strong wind.
The whole Groenberg has been burnt and tomorrow it will be easy to see that it is a black mountain and will need a new name.
It sounds just like Vietnam in the middle of a pitched battle here. (That shows how old I am, maybe it sounds more like Iraq).
There is a small plane circling above our house and vineyards and our neighbour’s farm. This guy is directing what seems like half a dozen helicopters that are bringing big buckets of water and foam to drop on the biggest flames. There is not a moment when you can’t hear two or more of the helicopters above or nearby and when there’s a lull, the little plane’s whine cuts through.
We won’t get much sleep tonight but we won’t be bored.
Is there an aeronautical geek out there who can tell me the make and model of this chopper?
December 13, 2005
Stormhoek and Microsoft - Friendly CompetitorsLast Saturday evening in London we co-sponsored with our friendly competitors, Microsoft, a get together for the blogging community. The evening was hosted by our friend Hugh Macleod at The Texas Embassy in Trafalgar Square and over 100 people turned up. It was a great chance for us to meet Robert Scoble from Microsoft. He was on the final leg of a three week European tour which had seen him take in several countries, including France, Belgium, Italy and Ireland. It also gave us an opportunity to talk and share a glass of wine with many of the bloggers who have expressed their views and opinions about Stormhoek over the past months. One of the weird things about the blogosphere is that you get to know about people before you meet them. Doing so for the first time is just like bumping into an old friend. I really enjoyed meeting up with Andrew Jaffe, our favourite astrophysicist, Andrew Denny, a media consultant and expert on the canals of England, Sam Sethi, who also sells wine in his spare time, Michael Jennings, who's a great friend of and collaborator with, Adriana Cronin-Lukas and last, but by no means least, Gia Milinovich. A great evening was had by everyone, hope we can do it again soon.
December 12, 2005
View from the window
Last night, a bush fire that had been burning in the Limietberg Mountains for days, arrived in our valley.
It’s burning on a steep ridge of the mountain 2 kilometres north of our Stormhoek vineyards.
Fire brings both danger and new life. There are millions of protea plants in this valley that can’t reproduce without a high temperature scorching of the seeds.
We were woken this morning by the sound of a convoy of fire engines lumbering through the vineyards in front of our home.
The fire is approaching a neighbour’s house and the oak trees, gardens and stables had to be soaked to protect them.
This valley has mountains on every side and the fire is burning on 2 different mountains north of us and slowly getting closer.
December 9, 2005
How much is too much?
The grapes that this young Pinot Grigio vine is carrying in December would be enough to make 4 bottles of Stormhoek. But the crop is too heavy to give the quality we need. We’ll cut some of the grapes away this week.
A vine’s genetic future is in the grapes’ seeds. Every season the vine plans and provides for its next generation the best it can.
If nature and our viticulture have stimulated too many grapes, the vine will be overloaded during the high stress period of ripening. That can result in burnout, a permanently unhealthy vine.
So when we see Stormhoek vines that have a bumper crop, we get out the clippers and cut bunches off. It means that hundreds of virtual bottles are never made, never sold.
But we really don’t have a choice.
Message in a bottle
The Stormhoek brand looks like it is printed on the bottle.
In fact, it’s printed on to clear film and we have to get this on to the bottle, smooth, and snug, without any trapped air bubbles.
You can’t put it on by hand and many machines are just as bad.
The air bubbles make white spots and the bottle appears to have a case of snowy measles.
So we have had to learn a lot about label application engineering.
Its all part of the fun of winemaking.
Answer to the Viognier conundrum.
We have added a few litres of our own hand-made Chenin Blanc.
December 2, 2005
BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) is the UK wine industry’s drug of choice these days. The promotional mechanics take various half-price forms, but they revolve around wines sold briefly at prices like 7.99, then “promoted” at what cynics would call their "real" price, of 3.99.
The question that nobody seems to be asking is: Do half-priced features violate the trust of the consumer? Does it undermine the market for premium wine? How is the producer and retailer trade going to end a practice that moves so much volume on what many would consider to be a less than objective practice?
A MAJOR retailer this week was promoting Fetzer, barrel select California Cabernet at £3.99 (regular price £7.99) with a screw cap closure. It was a deal so good that I had to buy a couple. I got it home and unscrewed the cap. The wine was, shall we say, a very nice bottle of 3.99 wine. A fair deal for the price I paid.
But, there was a nagging feeling inside me about this wine. I tasted it again, could I believe given Fetzer’s amazing winemaking prowess (they're a subsidiary of Brown Forman) , that this is a wine that the winery and retailer would have sold at £7.99. Well, the answer is, probably not. More to the point, would a consumer buy the wine at £7.99?
I went to Fetzer’s website, and looked at their positioning for the brand:
At the end of the 1800s, Valley Oaks was a center of livestock production in Northern California. The land was ideally suited for grape production and in 1984, Fetzer took over Valley Oaks to help it realize its full potential. It was then that we committed ourselves to a new winemaking philosophy. A philosophy grounded in a sense of responsibility to the land, our community and our customers.It was all about “place”, history, quality. The sorts of things that make me think, Gosh, this is a winery that is passionate about what they do. There is a lot of very specific information on the site about their commitments to using recyclable materials, import and treatment of cork in the US, etc etc.
As you explore, we hope you get a sense of what life at Valley Oaks is like and feel inspired to pay us a visit.
I then went back to the wine and took a closer look and saw that the wine was shipped in bulk and bottled in the UK. A practice that seemed rather inconsistent with many of the messages in the site.
Well, Stormhoek are big fans of non-source bottling, although we do not currently do it. There are many, many, good reasons to do it: Cost savings, Better supply chain and packaging, there are people in our business who believe that we could keep our wine fresher if it was bottled closer to the market. However, if your brand message is all about a sense of place and history and promises are being made about the packaging used and its provenance, is non-source bottling a consistent message? I will let you judge for yourself.
Fundamentally, if the industry is going to build brands, then the brands need to be true to their stated objectives and keep the promises that they make to the consumer. If the industry is going to build sales at higher price points, then a good way to do it is to sell wine that is legitimately worth £7.99 at £3.99. I am afraid that the message that is being perpetrated now is: There is NO reason to spend £7.99 on a bottle of wine, because it doesn’t taste any better than a £3.99 bottle.
BOGOF is a drug. Like all intoxicants, too much gets poisonous.
[PS:] A couple of days later, On a visit to another BIG retailer, there was Fetzer Sundial Chardonay and Cabernet on sale. Same mechanic, oddly Cabernet “half priced” at 8.49 down to 3.99 and Chardonnay at 7.99, down to 3.99. California, natural cork filled, I didn’t buy the wine, but it looked like the “normal” stuff i.e like it was acutally bottled at source. I think this retailer has more Christmas cheer in their offer.