January 28, 2006
Will blue wine be next?
All of the creatures that live in the vineyard atmosphere, floating around the vine leaves and in and out of our noses, conspire to make red grapes appear blue.
2 weeks ago, this bunch of Stormhoek Pinotage grapes were in the process of changing colour from green to pink and then red. Today they are blue.
Microorganisms like yeast, much too small to see cell by cell, have accumulated on the skins, gradually creating the blue effect.
Most of this bloom is quickly lost when you handle the grapes. Then skins then appear to be pitch black.
If you bite or crush the skin, the crimson dye stains your lips and fingers and it’s this colour that stains red wine red.
So, far we haven’t found a way to make blue wine.
January 25, 2006
Stormhoek's Secrets Revealed in Podcast
We all had a great chat and I got a great opportunity to talk about some of the basics of what we are thinking with regard to our wine, marketing and views on the future.
Here is the link.
The life of a buyer
Unfiltered wine contains a suspended cloud of inert yeast cells called lees. The lees keep the unbottled wine fresh while it develops. This is Stormhoek’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2005 as it looks now. Samples are from 2 different barrels.
A wine buyer not only has to evaluate this wine against others tasted in previous days, weeks and months, he has to imagine what it will taste like after bottling. And he has to take a punt on who will like it enough to buy it, and at what price, 6 or 12 months ahead.
In a normal tasting day he will put his lips and thinking cap to 50 or 100 unfinished wines in a day.
If he makes a mistake, buys too much or pays too high a price, it can cost his job. If he gets it right, he will probably hear nothing.
January 22, 2006
Our favorite Geek Girls had a night out at the Texas Embassy in London on Thursday. We had to submit to the event organizer, the lovely Sara Blow, who apparently told Nick that the night wouldn't be complete without some Stormhoek.
Adriana blogged the evening and posted a quite fetching photo of her and Andrew Jaffee, Astrophysicist par excellence and I think after close examination, a bottle of Stormhoek Pinto Grigio in the backgorund.
Did Andrew go to the dinner for the girls or the wine? Only he knows.
January 21, 2006
The Wine and Spirits Trades' Benevolent Society
About six months ago I was invited to join a youth committee which had been set up to raise funds for The Wine and Spirit Trades’ Benevolent Society. The charity was formed in 1886 and its purpose is to help those who have worked in the drinks industry but are unable to properly look after themselves either fiscally or physically.
The youth committee, known as “Buddies of The Benevolent”, holds a number of social events through the year, of which Stormhoek has become a key sponsor, and I hope we can make a significant contribution to this worthwhile charity.
More recently, I have been asked to Chair the committee. I’m delighted to do so and very much look forward to understanding more about the internal workings of The Benevolent and how the charity can become better at meeting the needs of the trade. For members of the UK trade out there: Please remember to give generously when there is a knock at your door.
The “F” Word and When Old Equalled Better
For some, they just don’t get the Freshness thing. We were thinking back to a time when FRESHNESS didn't matter. One of the most famous, but long forgotten events in wine was the Glamis Castle sale of its wine cellar by Christies in the early 1970's. (if someone can provide the exact date, I'd be grateful)
Glamis Castle, where generations of royalty were born, had a cellar full of great Bordeaux and Burgundy dating as far back as the late-1700’s. The fine wine market was beginning to flourish in the late 1960's and early 1970’s and Christies sold what would now be about $100 million worth of wine for about $5,000 (I am only slightly exaggerating).
The question is of course, why besides the fact that the family were hoarders, did they have vintages in their cellar spanning over 200 years?
Michael Broadbent was Christie's man in charge at the Castle and he told and anecdote about discovering, in Glamis Castle, "a bin in which there were 42 magnums of 1870 Lafite with original wax seals." The 13th Earl of Strathmore had bought them in 1878. "The wine was so astringent that he did not like it, and when he died . . . the wine was virtually untouched," Broadbent went on. "It took a full 50 years to become mellow enough to drink, and it was already a century old at the time of my visit." Later, he tasted it several times over the years, and concluded, "It is quite simply one of the greatest-ever clarets.
Well, that says it all: It used to be said that a man would buy claret for the next generation to enjoy. Why? Because, Young wine, especially claret, was largely UNDRINKABLE. Bordeaux when released was tannic, raw and really unpleasant. Similarly, young port was like mud and needed a good 25 years to start to blossom. Even White burgundies were lean, acidic and somewhat tannic in their youth. But alas, these were simple problems to deal with as in those days, wine was cheap and the cellars in Scotland were big and cold. Perfect for long term ageing.
Frankly in those days, older equalled better.
If you had mentioned the “F” word to people back then, they would have looked at you like you sprouted a second head.
But things have changed and done so for the better.
The 2005 vintage will yield Bordeaux that will be drinking beautifully in a very short period of time. Global warming helps get nice ripe flavours into the wine and new fangled equipment like refrigeration, stainless steel and generally better tech, makes fruitier wines with softer tannins, that benefit from earlier drinking. I believe that many of these wines will be long dead before their counterparts of 100 years ago would have been ready to drink.
When it comes to whites like Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, now you can taste the fruit as it was grown, fermented and freshly preserved in a screw top bottle. Its all about drinking the wine at its peak. And that peak comes much quicker than lots of people think.
So, next time someone pulls out an old bottle, while you are drinking it, think about whether the experience might have been even better a few years sooner. When you are standing at the wine shelf in your local store and you see a bottle of 2005 Australian Chardonnay or 2000 California Chardonnay, you’ll know which is a better bet.... Now, if we could just get the labelling a little easier to understand.
USA HERE WE COME !!!
Our head Cheerleader, Hugh has been alluding to our US launch, which will finally take place in March. We have appointed Palm Bay Imports as our exclusive importer. We will be on their spring tour to Austin, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle during the second week of March, so all members of the trade are invited to visit with us at the different venues.
Of course, our trip to Seattle will give us a chance to meet up with our friendly competitors, Microsoft. Maybe we’ll be able to trade a few bottles of Stormhoek for a new Xbox... alright, maybe a case.
January 17, 2006
How to sell less wine!
Read in Decanter the other day that , The Ramona Valley has become the third wine growing region of Southern California to be granted AVA status. Read the full story here.
This got me thinking. There is a trend here which is not good for the consumer. It follows the continuation of a ‘branding’ exercise that began hundreds of years ago and seems to be taking the New World down the same route as the Old World. Many producers seem to believe that the best way to be recognised is to strap some outmoded geographical reference onto the side of their winery. It underscores that the wine world is, for many, really about property as much as wine.
The rush for the creations of appellations in California is really driven by the vineyard owners desire to make their property more valuable; it seems everyone aspires to have their own Romanee-Conti. A few years ago, much of California's non coastal geography was relegated to a "California" appellation, which many people in the business view (incorrectly) as down market. So, there has been a push on the part of the owners in many areas to get their "own' appellation to enhance the value of their properties.
It is a fools errand. What these guys do not realize is that by slicing these growing areas thinner than prosciutto, they are just creating confusion for the consumer. Of course, the consumer is not on the radar of most growers or wineries for that matter. They think that their business is about managing the distributor network.
While Decanter mentions 168 AVA’s, The Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) lists about 3,000 additional approved US county appellations. I do not know how many more specific appellations have been approved or have been applied for, but I suspect that that it will eventually wind up being a multiple of that number. But the point is that all the slicing and dicing will lead to an incomprehensible muddle of confusion for most consumers.
Of course, the exercise is modelled after the outdated European “Appellation Controllee” system. Which any casual observer can clearly see does not work for almost any of the producers outside of places like Champagne and Burgundy.
The dream of the vineyard owners is to make their little piece of real estate equivalent to 57th and 5th in New York City. It aint gonna happen. Napa is the equivalent of 57th and 5th and someone else already owns it. Further, it has taken the Napa folk about seventy years to position their piece of paradise in the minds of the consumer. Perhaps there is an argument to slicing and dicing Napa, but I am not entirely convinced.
The opportunity to make a difference in the marketplace is through branding. Not gratuitous claims that are without substance, but, through creating great wines and delivering them with meaning. Only a few wineries actually get it and ironically the best operate without these ridiculous geographical and historical constraints.
So, instead on focusing on brand value and doing the things that will make a difference to the consumer, land owners prefer to take the regulatory route of having the TTB give their place meaning. Ultimately all of these appellations (with a few notable exceptions) will be marginalized and mean nothing to anybody.
We do think about the issue of Appellation for Stormhoek. We selected “Wine of the Western Cape” as our Appellation because while we could use more specific appellations on some of our wines, we feel that South Africa is already so far away from most consumers, that using Appellations like Wellington, would just confuse. Already, when we say Wellington, I cannot tell you how many people start thinking that we are from New Zealand.
I can recall some of the first wine books that I ever read that had entire sections on how to read a German or Burgundy wine label. Call me silly, but I think that if a producer creates a label that a consumer cannot read and understand in a few seconds, then the producer is not doing his job.
Simplicity, good messages, great product. Remove the pretence. Wouldn’t it make for a simpler world?
Can you spare a few leaves?
Some rows of vines in the Stormhoek Viognier semi-circular block of vines are incomplete, and have the odd empty space between vines. Most of these are not visible here, being in the cropped off corner of the block, top right. The rest can be seen in the outside/lower two rows.
Most of the Viognier vines in the picture above will become 6 years old in 2006. A few are five years old, some four, others three and so on. Every year we plant new baby Viognier vines in spaces where no vines are growing.
There are only 20 or so empty spaces left today. One of these days, all of these spaces will be filled by mature vines. Because we will keep planting, till they are.
How do we get empty spaces? Some of our neighbours think our baby Viognier vines taste like 5 star salad. Young vines bud with vibrantly green shoots and tender leaves which are chin-high to a two-foot tall antelope.
When all of the buds are bitten off, the vine withers and dies. Fortunately, these salad-eaters are too timid to go deep into the block, concentrating on the outer rows. And if the vine makes it to a meter high at the end of its first year, from then on they leave it alone.
January 11, 2006
Lean on me
This Viognier vine is supported by a pole because we don’t want its grapes to lie on the ground.
Most vineyards are planted in straight lines. The canes (branches), leaves and grape bunches are supported on a pole and wire system in a grid pattern, called trellising.
This Stormhoek vineyard has no wires. The vines are growing in semi-circle lines on a convex hillside, so each vine has its own pole.
We did it in this vineyard because we couldn’t work out how to tighten a wire system around a semi-circle without pulling all of the supporting poles out of the ground.
Anyway, all of the vines grow nicely in the curved lines and the grapes ripen evenly in the shade of the leaves. It works.
January 9, 2006
36 degrees and climbing
Our December fire burnt mostly fynbos, the native vegetation, and left the upper slopes of the Groenberg (Green Mountain) black. The fynbos (proteas etc) will recover after next winter’s rain. As a result of fire scorching, seeds will germinate and we will have a new crop of wild flowers in about 5 years’ time.
We are having a scorching summer holiday period, with many days recording maximum temperatures of over 36 deg. C. The fire that burnt up to our boundary on the mountainside was extinguished by the water bombing by helicopter within a few hours of my post in mid-December.
Bush fires have been breaking out all over the Western Cape. At one time, red trucks and helicopters were busy with 14 fires at one time.
We haven’t had any damage, nor has any other vineyard in the area. The fires were mostly in inaccessible mountain tops and gullies. Altogether, over 20000 hectares of surface area has been blackened.
Harvest at Stormhoek will get going in about a month. Most of the red varieties are still green, with just a bit of colour developing in Pinotage.
Pinotage is a red variety with very deep coloured skin. This bunch is in the first stage of changing colour from green to red (or deep purple/blue). Some berries are green, some pink, some almost fully coloured.
All grapes that we use for wine start out green. About 6 weeks before harvest, the red varieties (like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) start changing colour; first pink, then red and finally, a deep shade of blue. All of the individual berries have a different timetable and our biggest job in the vineyards from spring to picking is to get all of them in each block ripe, bunch by bunch and vine by vine, at the same time.