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February 26, 2006

Stormhoek 05 Pinotage anti- Release?

Well, this post may prove to be a bit unpopular (for a change) around the winery, but we’ve got a blog and while we are not immune to spinning a yarn or two, transparency is high on our list. So, here goes.

Who said that just because I'm in the biz, I have to like all wines? I have always had a big problem with pinotage

It’s not that there is anything particularly odious about Pinotage. It is considered the one varietal that is unique to South Africa. It was developed as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault around 1925. That’s all good. The problem is simply that nearly all pinotage I've had has this sort of green unripe flavor that is then overlaid with an earthy dirtiness that really makes the whole combination pretty diabolical. Really horrendous. What makes it all even stranger, is that there is a not so small group of winemakers in SA that actually like the stuff.

So when David Taub, CEO of our US Importer, said to me “You gotta make us some world class Pinotage”, I though, well, there is an oxymoron, if I ever heard one. But, being from the school of “the customer is always right”, I headed down to the winery to take it up with Graham.

We took the approach that we knew what we didn’t want: All that green, earthy stomach-turning yuckinesss. What we did want was colour, rich fruit (which does appear in really ripe pinotage) a bit of oak... something that would stand up to the test of “special sauce” on a burger.

Making wine is sometimes like making sausages, (whoops, maybe I wasn’t supposed to say that), but after a lot of debate, blending, paradigm shifting and trials, we came up with a wine that is making me reconsider my position on Pinotage: Dark, rich, intensely fruity, layers of really nice oak. Almost a reinterpretation of really nice, dense Australian shiraz.

So, last week, I had the pleasure of unveiling the new 05 Pinotage to Mr. Taub. After a swirl and a sip, he pronounced, to my great satisfaction, that we have a 'winner'.

Unfortunately for our friends elswhere, it’s only available in the USA. Sorry, we’re trying to make a bit more this year.

Posted by Jason at 12:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Nick's 15 MInutes

Nick did an interview for the Telegraph on Sunday and I guess they liked what he had to say, because they've done a nice article on Stormhoek. It's very cool and we're all very happy :)

Posted by Jason at 10:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 22, 2006

Freshly squeezed

Pressing Pinotage 02  06 001.jpg

Pinotage skins caught in the act of releasing their last drops of wine
We started our harvest programme with Pinotage.
That sugar-rich white juice is now dry, red and headed for the barrel.
Most of our white varieties have been picked in the meantime.
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio (with its red skins), Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Viognier are all somewhere in the fermentation process.
Shiraz and Merlot are also still fermenting while the Cabernets still carry on gathering ripeness in the vineyard.
We have varieties that almost always ripen earlier than others. And we have vineyards in locations (terroir) that influence and modify this.
So there are blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon on the rolling hillsides of Darling, near the sea, that have already finished fermentation and Sauvignon Blanc (our earliest white) in Stanford, also near the sea, that is still on the vine.
Which part is science and which part is art?

Posted by graham knox at 7:57 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Indulgence without limit

Chenin Blanc fermentation 02  06.jpg

You can see the foamy, cream-coloured yeast fermenting our first batch of Chenin Blanc juice through the bung of the barrel.
A yeast cell is a tiny unicellular plant.
It just loves sugar.
The juice of a wine grape that has been left to hang on a healthy old vine is about one quarter sugar. When you put sugar-rich Chenin Blanc juice in a barrel, the yeast cells in the air meet up with the juice in an orgy of consumption that busloads of five-year-olds in an ice cream parlour could not match.
This Chenin Blanc juice was pressed from the grapes four days ago and put into this barrel. Its sugar is now being devoured by billions of yeast cells and out of this rabelasian feast we get the miracle of wine.
When the last orgasmic trace of sugar has been consumed, countless yeast cells will sink blissfully into slumber at the bottom of the liquid in the barrel.
Every week, we’ll come and stir the cells up with a 7 iron, because they have the extraordinary ability to keep the wine fresh as new over months of barrel maturation.

Posted by graham knox at 5:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 18, 2006

100 Dinner update

Okay, we're a week into it and we've got 31 sign ups on the wiki and about 25 emails, some of which are dupes from the wiki, Canadians and folks from the Continent. For the USA, it looks like we have about 45 dinner sponsors. As far as I can tell, there has been no padding of the list with friends and family, or even business associates. We're holding them in reserve :)

We are thinking about where to kick off the first dinner: You know the one with the dancing girls, jeroboams of sauvignon blanc, caviar, grilled springbok,etc. New York, LA and San Francisco are out, I think. It's just a bit too obvious. We were talking about it today and we were thinking that we'd like to do it somewhere remote. Very remote.

I am grateful to Bill, Misty and Thomas
, for pointing out that Mountain Home is in Arkansas, Not Arizona. I've never been to Arkansas, but that sounds like it would potentially be a good place to start. But its up for grabs and we'd love to hear from anyone who can come up with a particularly interesting topic for the dinner and a comfy venue to have it, just let us know. Please feel free to post suggestions.

At the present rate, we should have the 100 dinners in the US spoken for by the end of the month. Then we will be in touch to deal with planning.

Another update next week.

Posted by Jason at 6:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Jamie Goode

Met up with Jamie Goode yesterday afternoon. He’s a guy that really gets the whole blogging scene and his blog Wineanorak which started life three years ago is one of the few devoted to wine.

He also writes the wine column for The Daily Express.

We compared notes and reckon that the rather insular nature of the wine industry and its general lack of ability to engage a two way conversation with its audience pretty much explains the lack of wine discussion going on out there.

Jamie hopes that his blog will encourage others to follow and that we can get a good wine buzz going on out there in the future.

Posted by nick at 12:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Splitting the Shoal


I was talking the other evening with a good friend, James, who like me has worked in wine since about 1870!

We were discussing what it would take to get wine drinkers to return to that sense of adventure that seemed to prevail in the early to mid 1990’s.

For those who can remember, the Australians had really taken the UK by force and new and exciting wines were emerging from South America, South Africa, New Zealand and even areas of Eastern and Central Europe. It seemed that there was a real buzz for experimentation and all these new wines were capturing the hearts and minds of a generation brought up on Liebfraumilch and the odd bottle of French red.

I worked as wine buyer for ASDA at the time and we really had a “No Fear” attitude towards wine. Our reasoning was that “It was better to have tried something new than not” and you never got criticised for testing something that didn’t work only for not having given it a go in the first place. Radical stuff, especially by today’s standards.

The analogy James and I came up with was that the Australians having brought the market together evolved into a Great White Shark swimming, at lightning speed, into a huge shoal of fish. The shoal disperses and heads in different directions, some return to reform the group and some don’t, they actually form new, smaller shoals of their own. Short lived though.

As more predators join the feeding frenzy. The shoals reform as an even tighter, single group bound together by fear.

We reckon that’s what’s happening to wine. The huge brands are eating up the market and homogenising it. The consumer is bombarded every day by hundreds of pieces of information and doesn’t any longer have the time, patience or courage to make a personal choice. It’s easy just to buy what’s easy to buy without thinking. Be told what to do in other words.

As an industry, we seem to have done a great job of grabbing the attention of the consumer, getting them into a frenzy and then feeding off them like sharks and scaring them half to death.

It’s pretty depressing stuff, especially when you go to such lengths to do the very best you can and try to encourage your customers to aim a little higher and drink much better.

We talk about it a lot at the winery and never have I been more convinced that our success or failure is entirely about how we engage with the market. Encourage feedback, move the ownership to the customer and provide them with an environment that engenders a sense of adventure and enjoyment.

The big retailers have to provide the platform for this to happen. At the moment, I think their concerns are more one dimensional. It’s just about volume and profitability rather than the needs of the consumer.

Posted by nick at 11:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

100 Dinners in 100 Nights Update

I posted over the weekend about what some of my 'work friends' have called a'naively ambitious' plan to launch Stormhoek in the US by having 100 Geek dinners in the first 100 nights. Four days into it, we have 12 posts on the wiki and there are about 10, apparently not so geeky, wiki-challenged folks who have emailed Hugh asking if they could sponsor dinners.

So, 4 days into it and we are about 22% there. That a lot better than I expected--- but we are still a long way from 100. So far, based just on the wiki we've got dinners happening in: New York City, Cincinatti, Mountain Home Arizona, San Mateo, Seattle, Madison, Pittsfield, Ypsilanti, Flagstaff, Bellingham, Wa., Denver and a bunch of Canadians who we have no idea how we are going to help out.... but standby cause we are working on it.

Watch this space for dinner updates.

Posted by Jason at 11:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 13, 2006

Merlot on the terraces

Harvesting Merlot 02  06 001.jpg
Blue skies and warm temperatures quickly ripen grapes, so all varieties follow on each others’ heels here.

We harvested our first Merlot 2006 grapes this morning from our highest terraced block. They are now in the winery cold room, cooling down to 2 or 3 deg. C. They will go through the crusher tomorrow.
After a week of harvesting , we have Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Merlot in the winery, all in grape or juice form. They will all start to be wine in a few days.
Merlot was a late arrival on the South African scene and when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, South Africa had one labelled Merlot. If you wanted to compare this, you had to buy a bottle of Pomerol. You couldn’t find a bottle of Californian wine of any variety.
There was a big Merlot planting programme in the 1990’s followed by a 'learning how to make Merlot wine' programme.

Posted by graham knox at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Bruce Jack-- A brilliant Writer and Winemaker

Anyone who follows the SA wine scene will have certainly heard of Flagstone, Bruce Jacks's brainchild that has been producing some of the flashiest wines from the Cape. The brilliance of Flagstone is not just the quality of the wine, but the fabulous stories that Bruce weaves around the wines. The stories are as beautiful as the wines.

Another example of Bruce's brilliant writing is a recent piece called The Verasion Road Show.

I am sure that Bruce is as busy as we are with harvest right now, but when he comes up for air, maybe he'd honor us with guest post or two on this blog?

Posted by Jason at 8:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

White juice, stained red

Pinotage cold soak 02  06 003.jpg
We ferment Pinotage in an open container and control the rate of fermentation with plates containing very cold water.

This is Pinotage grape juice, three and a half days after picking.
The juice was clear (like white wine) straight after crushing, and cold. Three days later, its still only about 8 deg. Celcius, but lots of colour has been transferred from the many broken skins.
We will add yeast to this sweet juice tomorrow morning and allow the temperature to slowly rise to start the fermentation.
Most of the flavour of red wines is in the skins, along with the colour. If we can transfer lots of it from the solid to the liquid before the yeast get fully into action, we will have a concentration of soft tannins and little of the harsher ones.

Posted by graham knox at 1:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

Storming the USA: "100 Dinners in 100 Nights"

100 Geek Dinners
100 Nights
100 Conversations

Over the last six months, Stormhoek has sponsored a lot of geeky and not-so-geeky dinners in London, Dallas, New York, Tennessee, Cumbria, and other parts of the world.

We've enjoyed being part of it. Sure, it's a chance to sponsor our product, but it runs deeper than that. People gathering and talking about what matters to them, I frankly can't think of a better reason to open a bottle of wine.

As I mentioned before, we will be launching in the States shortly. So to tie in with this w e were thinking sponsoring more of these wonderful blog dinners. So why not make it official?

Here is the deal: we've asked
Hugh to set up a wiki where any blogger can sign up to organize a dinner [or lunch or breakfast, for that matter].

We'll supply the wine, the bloggers supply the people and the conversation. The events don't have to be big, or at a fancy place, we imagine that they could be anywhere- a bar, a porch, a beach, park, whatever, so don't limit yourself to a restaurant.
Sure, we want this to be about bloggers, although anyone who wants to invite a supermodel, rock star or pro athlete along is welcome to do so. We just want the events to be interesting. The local organizer will set the rules for the event, so please use your imagination. As usual, there is no need to blog or post pics about Stormhoek, but we do ask that you email us some pics of the event, because we'd like to have mementos of the dinners, maybe to post later.

You will need to post an idea for a subject for your dinner on the wiki – any idea will do, and not every event has to have a different topic. We might provide a few ideas. Some of the Stormhoek folk will try to attend some of them, if we can. The 100 days will run from 1 May until 9 August 2006.

Finally, everything is subject to us being allowed to get the wine to the event through the appropriate distribution channels, void where prohibited by law, etc.

This is just an experiment, and sure, the idea will probably evolve some, but we think there's a lot of fun to be had. We like what the bloggers are doing, we like what they and their geek dinners stand for, and we want to be part of it.

I hope you'll visit the wiki. Thank you.

Posted by Jason at 4:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Stormhoek in the North

We made a trip out yesterday evening in Yorkshire with Stormhoek.

85 prominent business people turned up at 42. The Calls in Leeds for a tutored tasting on our wines from South Africa.

It was great to have a chance to talk with them face to face about what we do and how communication is such a key feature of our business. Many of the group were astonished at the success we have had in spreading the Stormhoek meme and were surprised that it wasn't used by other wine businesses as "surely word of mouth is the advertisement"! Yes, sure do agree with that!

The event also gave me the chance to explain about the stunning geography and diversity in culture, flora and fauna which makes South Africa such an unusual and exciting place.

This is actually the message that Wines of South Africa, the government sponsored marketing division for all South African wine, is trying to get across to consumers around the world. Guys, I have to say that the only way you can do this with any sort of success is face to face. Booklets, ad's and CD ROM's just don't convey what is a pretty complex message in an understandable way.

The feedback from the tasting was great and thanks to Rachel and Deborah for organising the event.

Lastly, I invited the group to visit us at Stormhoek should they ever be in South Africa and, of course, this is extended to all you folks who visit our blog. Just let us know when you're going so we can stoke up the Braai and chill the wine.

Posted by nick at 3:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Baby wineries

Platter Guide 02  06.jpg
The Platter guide to SA wines has been running for more than 20 consecutive years.
There have always been lots of small wineries in places like Burgundy, where the average piece of land under one ownership is less than 1 hectare.
But in the lands of Big is Better, like California and the south east corner of Australia, tiny cellars are sprouting at the rate of over 1 a day.
In South Africa, the annually produced Platter guide to wine documents every label from every brand and documents a similar phenomenon.
In 2000, Platter had 240 cellars and wine traders and this year’s edition covers 700, with nearly half of these making less than 7000 cases of wine a year.
And all of this is in roughly the same national vineyard area.
South Africa has not expanded vineyards (much) but replaced unfashionable varietals with whatever seems like a good idea.

Posted by graham knox at 7:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Still searching for the big plan

Pinotage harvest 02 06.jpg
First day of harvest
The period of 100+ days between the onset of flowering and harvest allows us to plan our production schedule per variety.
Because our young Cabernet Franc vineyard flowered 2 weeks before Pinotage (see post dated November 4) I thought we would have Cabernet Franc harvested, fermented and in barrels before the Pinotage was picked.
But I’m only me. Nature knows better.
Yesterday, we harvested the first luscious grapes to ripen (Pinotage) and the Cabernet Franc is still ripening patiently in the vineyard.
Why? Who knows? The Cabernet block faces west and the Pinotage is on a north-facing slope, giving it a 20 minute earlier sunrise.

Posted by graham knox at 7:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 9, 2006

The wine see-saw

Empty bottle 02  06.jpg
Sales of certain categories swing up, while others are in decline

When you look at the rapid fall in wine consumption in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Argentina, where drinkers have traditionally emptied more than half of the world’s wine bottles, you’d find cause for despair.
Surprisingly, this loss is more than made up by the enthusiastic discovery of wine by young people in places like Shanghai and Stockholm and others in Amsterdam and Manchester.
Who would have thought that the snow-bound residents of Finland would down an average of nearly 30 litres of expensive wine every year?

Posted by graham knox at 5:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 4, 2006

Collective wisdom

Our Packaging Update and
Please don’t tell the competition

I Spent a bit of time at the LIFT conference last week and there was some really good discussion on the subject of open source design. It reminded me that we have been remiss in not posting an update on what is happening with ours. Not to mention there is still a grand riding on the outcome, so presumably those people who were kind enough to submit, want to know what’s up.

For the benefit of some of our new friends, Hugh ran a post in November about our efforts to redesign our label. We had lots of people post on the wiki and email us everything from a few thoughts, to full design briefs.

Collective Wackiness?

Based upon comments in the trade, many of the folks in the business thought we lost our marbles – after all, wine label design is a specialized art and most producers pay big bucks to have the ‘right’ designer do their stuff. That might be true, but we felt we were onto something here.

When Hugh posted that we asked why our competition shouldn’t be Microsoft or Google, many people didn’t (and still don’t) get it. But Robert Scoble over at Microsoft got it and had his spin on it. As did, people like Brian Moffatt.

Many Weigh In

There were comments about using clear bottles only, using new types of print tech that allow a face on the bottle to follow someone as they pass by the shelf. Embedding our ‘wired’ connection into the label, using phrases like “Blog This”. There was a particularly impressive interpretation of the freshness indicator suggested as part of a very vodka-ish package—let’s face it lots of vodka packages are far more creative than wine packs – so a point was made with that suggestion.

There were in total, well over 100 responses (some were emailed), but what was most interesting, was what people didn’t suggest: Put a picture of the winery on the label. A cool pic of the chateau would be great (there isn’t one) or, oh, grape vines, please put grape vines, the vineyard, etc. Or, don’t you guys have a family crest?

The Silence Was Deafening

We couldn’t agree more and what lots of producers from all over the world don’t seem to get is that their area of production (fill in the blank) is very beautiful. Grapevines (with a few exceptions I can think of) are grown in very beautiful places. It appears that beautiful imagery doesn’t differentiate anymore.

(Note to Competitors: We gather that (y)our consumer in Des Moines or Manchester doesn’t give a toss about your new $100 million winery)

The exercise highlighted how difficult the job is. From it all, we surmised that people think that the new package should:

1) Stand out (at all costs)
2) Incorporate imagery that goes beyond the standard wine stuff
3) Be in a cool bottle, if we can afford to.

Pretty simple, eh?

Not really. We spent weeks pulling our collective hair out and Hugh posted a follow up. More responses with the same overall message.

Well, I am sorry to report that we still do not have an answer, but here is what we are thinking:

1) Great wine needs to be more about real life and lifestyle, less about what temperature its fermented at and what time of day the grapes were picked.

2) Wine by definition changes with every vintage and in that way and many others, it is a bit of fashion, which of course, changes with the seasons as well.

3) People seem to like that Stormhoek has become about ‘the conversation’ and it needs to continue to provoke one. There seems to be a consensus that wine should be about what happens 'AFTER' you open the bottle.

4) Make it special: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make a $10-12.00 ‘object of desire’? *

We are continuing to work on the project and are looking at 'other' wine and non wine products that might give us some inspiration. Let us know if you have any suggestions.

In the meantime, we are expecting to post some visuals in the next few weeks for comment, so stand by.

* Credit to Alex Bellinger for this one.

Posted by Jason at 11:13 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 3, 2006

Attention grabber

Siyabonga Jan fire 01  06 001.jpg

Proteas and other indigenous vegetation (fynbos) ablaze at Stormhoek yesterday

All hands to the water pumps. Stormhoek vineyard work took a back seat yesterday as a fire crossed our boundary and threatened the Viognier vineyard and a block of Chenin Blanc.
We had a second major fire (after the Christmas conflagration) burning through our valley last week, this time coming from the south.
On Friday, a few hours of air-borne water-bombing seemed to put it out. But after a couple of hot and wind free days, a south-easterly gale started up and the fire was running again.
The helicopters came back yesterday afternoon and drowned our end of the blaze.
2 or 3 kilometres from the Stormhoek vineyards, the fire is still burning through the mountain fynbos, but it is burning towards a scene of desolation; hundreds of hectares of charred stumps and ash indicate that it may burn itself out by the weekend.

Posted by graham knox at 10:25 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 2, 2006

Little Google Victory

In June our Google count was about 500 items returned from a search. The count has steadily risen to 72 - 77,000(depending upon the Googlemonster's mood) over the last week.

Nearly all of the accessable links are blog comments and other meaningful stuff- no spammy links. This is all good, however tonight there was a major break through.

Until tonight, each time I Googled Stormhoek, the first line returned was "Did you mean Storm broek?" as if to say, "Sir, you must be making an error, do you really want to know more about this (really) unimportant thing called Stormhoek".

Well, in the last few days, it would appear that the computers at Google apparently decided that there are enough people looking for Stormhoek, so that Stormhoek is not just a product of misspelling/ poor typing skills, etc. Now, when one Google's Stormhoek... you get Stormhoek only.

Progress sometimes comes in baby steps...It kinda makes me happy.

Posted by Jason at 12:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack