Retailers accused of paying ‘lip service’ to the green issue
Sunday 25 October
I’ve just attended a debate, which asked whether the promotion of environment credentials is a marketing ploy. The room was half-full at best, which is a sad indication of the importance of the green issue in the UK wine industry. Or perhaps everyone had gone on half-term a day early? Compared to the full-house at the recent low alcohol forum, it was a poor showing – I didn’t spot one major retailer.
It appears many wine producers are going green for the right reasons but retailers were accused of using the green message to suit their own agendas – making a profit. Unfortunately the supermarkets weren’t there to defend themselves, but there were some damning comments.
Michael Cox, UK director for Wines of Chile, which is one of the main producing countries leading the sustainability drive along with South Africa and New Zealand, said, “Most multiple retailers will pay lip service to green initiatives.”
The main problem is consumers see wine as a natural product and that means the word sustainable or organic on a wine label has less meaning than organic on a bunch of carrots. It goes some way to explaining why sales of organic wine have not kept pace with the rest of the organic industry. Cox added, “Having a social conscience does not appear to sell more bottles. The consumer is not prepared to pay a premium for organic wine because they don’t understand the concept. ”
Retailers are clearly doing things to help the environment such as the plastic bag reuse scheme but a cynic would argue it is only because the authorities have ruled they must reduce their plastic bag use. Angela Mount implied retailers didn’t give a damn about saving the environment – it is all about saving money. If the changes didn’t save money, then they wouldn’t do them. She argued bulk shipping and lightweight bottles improved margins for retailers, adding “I don’t believe the green issue is driven by the consumer. It is often a convenient ploy to reduce costs.”
Peter Darbyshire, MD of UK importer and distributor PLB agreed, “The green solution is to move the point of packaging as close to the point of sale. It is moving to the UK but sadly driven by retailers’ price motivation rather than the green agenda.”
The end of ANIVIT
Wednesday 21 October
Following the launch of the new wine category vin de France, ANIVIT, the trade organisation for vins de pays and vins de table wines, has been renamed ANIVIN.
Regular readers of my blog will know that the new vin de France designation permits table wines to bear the vintage and variety on the label, making it a much more appealing for big brands including J.P.Chenet.
The organization will no longer by responsible for vin de pays wines and will focus entirely on developing the new category vin de France.
As an aside, I am still trying to find out what is going to happen to the high-profile top 100 vin de pays competition when the category becomes Indication Geographique Protegee (IGP). A competition for a category that no longer exists would be slightly eccentric.
Tesco wine marathon
Tuesday 20 October
Expect to be reading about Tesco’s autumn press tasting in the nationals in the coming weeks – the big names had turned up to taste through some of the 150 wines at the tasting.
What will be their verdict? Well, I can’t predict that but take it from me, Tim Atkin MW will not be enthusing about the £3.74 White Merlot.
Personally, I struggled to find any gems in the pack. I admit I didn’t taste all 150 wines as fatigue kicked in and my enthusiasm waned half way through the reds but my black teeth are proof that I put my time in today.
The whites were generally of a good standard – you get what you pay for. I’d be happy to drink most of them and they are varietally correct but there was nothing that I would rave about. Picks of the bunch would include Tesco’s Finest 2008 Gavi (£7.49), Finest Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.98) and Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2008 (£8.99).
Unfortunately the reds I tasted didn’t leave me feeling very cheery either. Its Finest Hermitage 2005 costing a cool £19.99 was not up to scratch in my opinion nor was its 2004 Rioja Reserva from Vina Mara. I think I would feel rather cheated if I had paid £8.98 for this brett-central Tempranillo.
Anyway enough doom and gloom. On a positive note, I must be turning into a bargain basement wine taster because its Finest Mendoza Malbec 2008, made by Catena, and costing just £4.24 was a bit of a stand out. This inky purple wine has classic Malbec flavours – ripe blueberry, blackberry and a lick of dairy vanilla on the palate. The concentration’s pretty good at this price. Ok, the tannins are pretty drying and the alcohol’s a little warm but I can forgive that at under a fiver.
Does Tinta Negra get unfairly treated?
Monday 19 October
Fortified wine Madeira is generally categorised by its four noble grape varieties Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia. However, 85% of all plantings on the island of Madeira are Tinta Negra Mole. The variety is usually seen as inferior and makes wines that are not destined for the fine wine shelves.
At the annual Madeira tasting, I spoke to Danny Cameron of specialist importer Raymond Reynolds and there seems to be an argument that Tinta Negra has not been allowed to show its potential.
Cameron said, “Tinta Negra is automatically seen as inferior so it’s damned before it’s started - overheated and caramelized. A lot are rubbish but some aren’t.”
Of course, he has a vested interest in Tinta Negra as he imports Barbeito’s Single Harvest 1997, which is made from…Tinta Negra. Unlike others who treat the variety as a second-class citizen from the outset, 50% is green harvested in an attempt to ripen and concentrate the remaining bunches.
After fortification all Madeira is subject to one of two processes, which heats the wine and make it virtually indestructible. Most use the estufagem for their Tinta Negra – the wine is placed in stainless steel vats and heated by a hot coil to 45-50 degrees C for a period of at least three months.
Barbeito don’t use this for their Tinta Negra. They use the traditional and more expensive method - the Canteiro. Wines aged in Canteiro are put in casks, usually in the top floors of wine cellars where the temperature is higher, for two years. It is oxidatively aged in cask, making the wine develop a distinctive nutty rancio character. Over time the wines are moved to lower levels in the cellar where the temperature is lower until it is ready to be bottled.
The Tinta Negra was pretty good although I feel it lacked a bit of intensity compared to Barbeito’s other wines (which were all really elegant and refined – definitely the most consistently good producer on the island, in my opinion).
Baboons hit South African vineyards
Thursday 15 October
Most wine producing countries have pest problems – from spider mites to rabbits. But South Africa tops them all with baboons causing real issues for grape growers.
Now I’d never heard of this until yesterday but I think baboons are pretty cool (incidentally, why are their bottoms so red?) and don’t get much coverage in the wine press, and I couldn’t resist writing about them.
Baboons have been a real problem at Klein Constantia winery for some time. They eat the grapes and can often rip off the cane that’s going to provide next year’s fruit while they’re pulling bunches off.
There are now several kilometres of electric fencing around the 146-hectare property to protect the vines from the baboons. Adam Mason, winemaker at Klein Constantia says, “It’s expensive but the baboons are quite destructive and they are becoming less and less frightened of people.”
At Groot Constantia beaters are employed to scare the baboons away but as the baboons get braver and braver, you wonder how long that will continue.
Anyone got any other strange vineyard pest stories? Baboons would be hard to beat surely?