2011 Louis Roederer Awards
Tuesday 20 September
Alas I am no longer the current Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year. That’s what happens with annual awards. You’re soon so last year!
But congratulations to Gabby Savage, deputy editor at the Drinks Business taking this year’s crown. Well deserved. She came to Harpers magazine when I was features editor on a work experience placement. A few months later, a staff writing job came up at the Drinks Business and she got it. She was quickly promoted to deputy editor when Jane Parkinson left the team, and she’s had her nose to the grindstone since. Well done. Spend your winnings unwisely!
Nice to see a few international writers getting on the winner’s podium this year. The competition has been accused of being UK-centric so it’s good to see US writer and natural wine supporter, Alice Feiring becoming online columnist/blogger of the year, Max Allen wine wine book of the year for The Future Makers: Australian Wine for the 21st Century and fellow Australian Tyson Stelzer win the Champagne writer of the year for his Champagne Guide 2011 eBook.
The other winners were…
The Artistry of Wine Award
International Wine Website of the Year
Tim Atkin M.W. for timatkin.com
International Wine Publication of the Year
The World of Fine Wine
Regional Wine Writer of the Year
Liz Sagues for the Hampstead & Highgate Express
International Wine Columnist of the Year
Victoria Moore for articles from the Guardian/ the Telegraph
International Wine Feature Writer of the Year
Andrew Jefford for articles from The World of Fine Wine and Decanter
The week that was
Friday 19 August
French producers started to return to their estates this week after their annual August holidays. I was on the news desk at Decanter.com and here’s the highlights of this week’s news.
It was a busier week than anticipated with the harvest beginning unusually early in Bordeaux. Sauternes star Chateau d’Yquem and rose producer Chateau de Sours started to pick the first grapes on Wednesday.
On Friday. Champagne producers in a number of villages were also permitted to start the harvest. The only harvest that has ever been earlier was the sweltering 2003 vintage. Grape growers and Champagne houses came to a compromise to allow 12,500kg to be harvested per hectare this year – more than 20% up on 2010, in response to growing demand
Heading to the southern hemisphere, New Zealand was covered in snow. The white stuff even fell in Auckland for the first time since 1939. Unhappily for one winery, it wasn’t just the weather that was gloomy. Gisborne winery Amor Bendall has gone into liquidation. The company has faltered amid the oversupply situation, the strength of the New Zealand dollar, and tough competition. The question is, who’s the next victim?
Over the Tasman, Australia is also struggling with its oversupply problems, and change is not happening fast enough, according to its generic body, Wine Australia. Its chief executive has been brutally honest, admiting many players are still in denial that the problem is long-term and requires major change. The new realities reshaping the industry include depressed trading conditions in its two main export markets: the US and the UK; the continued strength of the Australian dollar, higher production costs and tougher competition in all markets. Bulk wine sales and ‘opportunistic brand trading’ have also eroded margins, said Wine Australia’s Andrew Cheesman.
Are UK consumers finally trading up?
Monday 11 July
The latest figures from the UK show the average price of a bottle of wine from its 10 major wine supplying-countries has risen across the board. Shock horror, even unfashionable Germany has managed a price increase!
Cause for celebration? On the surface, yes. It suggests the consumer is trading up, willing to spend more but look deeper and things aren’t as rosy as they first appear.
The average bottle price of a New Zealand wine is up from £6.01 to £6.07 per bottle in the UK off-trade, Australia has seen a 13 pence increase to £4.72 while the average price of a South African wine is up 40 pence to £4.39.
However, increased duty charges and a weak British pound vs. most currencies suggest that the increased costs in the value chain are not being passed on in full. Customers are paying a bit more for wine but it appears that it is suppliers that have to absorb most of the cost increases. This is a problem for profitability.
In South Africa, Australian and New Zealand, strengthening currencies and duty rises meant existing prices were unsustainable. In some instances average bottle prices have increased but total sales have fallen. South African sales have dropped by 15% in value in the past 12 months and 22% by volume.
Australia and New Zealand have increased sales volumes but how much of that is sold at huge discount, bulk shipped and made into supermarket brands? According to Wine Australia, in the past year 47% of all wine shipments from Australia were bulk not bottled. Is this a sign of Australia’s economic credentials (bulk shipping has a lower carbon footprint than shipping in bottle) or is it a consequence of its massive oversupply problems?
What is clear is that consumers are being forced to pay more for their wine in the UK, producer margins continue to be nibbled away. Profitability has to come before volume sales if wineries are to survive. But, as South Africa has witnessed, there’s only so much people are willing to pay.
Australia stunned by another bumper crop
Thursday 16 June
The size of the Australian 2011 has given the industry an unwelcome surprise.
Disease ravaged the country’s vineyards with rains encouraging botrytis, and powdery and downy mildew, yet the crop still surpassed the 2010 harvest, coming in at 1.63 million tonnes.
Stephen Strachan, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia chief executive, admitted: ‘The vintage is too big. It may seem harsh, given the year many people have had, to focus on the longer term rather than the demands of the present, but a harvest in excess of 1.6 million tonnes (despite the rejections) is out of step with the realities of sustainable production and the market opportunity for premium Australian wine.’
Producers are equally surprised by the figures. Peter Gambetta, senior winemaker for Yalumba told rebeccagibb.com: ‘We thought it would be up to 1.5 but not 1.63m tonnes. Some people may have made wine that they shouldn’t have.’
‘We have made some really good wines; we have created some surprising wines that we thought may not come out well but we also left a fair bit of fruit out. We pride ourselves in Merlot but we may not release a Merlot this year,’ he added.
Malcolm Stopp, PR manager for Peter Lehmann, admitted: ‘It will go down as tough year but we are trying to focus on what we harvested . Our yields will be down 30% we have crushed around 10,500 tonnes as opposed to 20,000 in 2004.’
Biodynamic producer Henschke has some theories about the 2010/11 vintage. Stephen Henschke, said: ‘It rained non stop this year. The last time it did that was 1974. It comes in lunar cycles 1974 and 1992 were wet years and 2010/11.’ To find out more about this lunar idea, read Plimer’s Heaven on Earth, advises Henschke.
He was clearly surprised by the size of the vintage: ‘I was seriously thinking it was going to be about 1.3million tonnes.’
‘I’m amazed it’s that big but there was potentially a big crop at flowering so if we had not had those rains it could have been an even bigger crop, so perhaps those rains were a blessing in disguise,’ added Henschke.
£10m fund for promising winemakers
Wednesday 23 February
Calling all New Zealand and Australian winemakers that need a hand getting into the UK market.
Naked Wines wants to hear from any winemakers who have a great product but don’t have the funds to market it or winemakers who currently consult or make wine for wineries and want to start their own project.
This year, there’s a £10 million investment pot to support winemakers but they need to find you…
They’ve already helped Bill and Claudia Small, an Aussie couple making wines in NZ get their project off the ground. Naked have sold 47,000 bottles of their wine in the UK and the latest shipment sold out in just 48 hours.
Since launch in December 2008, Naked has recruited over 100,000 customers, who between them invest over £1m each month towards funding winemakers.
So, what are you waiting for?
Go to Naked Wines to apply online.