The MW seminar week is a Big Brother social experiment. Put 50 students from 13 different countries in a Bordeaux chateau for a week to eat, sleep and study together 14 hours a day (not counting the beer drinking and table football time) and it’s no wonder you leave feeling doo-lally.
My brain hurts and body pleads for no more wine and no more food. Luckily I have a week in the Alps snowboarding to recuperate!
Bordeaux is known for its foie gras, lamb, and duck as well as its world-class wines but instead we were served some typical British pub fare including gammon and pineapple on the first evening, which set the scene for the rest of the week. We were also treated to a pimped up version of a 1970’s classic party dish: remember cheese and pineapple on sticks in a tin foil covered orange? Think bigger. Much bigger. A foot high gold paper-wrapped cone with tropical fruit. What a treat! (If anyone has photographic evidence of this, let me know)
We were also lucky enough to taste a blend of red wine and sodium chloride. Mmmm, salty wine. And that was only one of the 24 wines the AWRI’s oenologist, Geoff Cowey, subjected us to. He managed to redeem himself on the bring-a-bottle evening, however.
So, it was an assault on the brain and the palate – and sometimes not for the right reasons.
However, I now have new friends in Washington DC, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Carcassone, Hungary…Whatever happens on this course, these social experiments are worth your participation.
When the google wine alert dropped into my inbox on Christmas Eve, I wasn’t expecting anything significant to happen. Then came news that Constellation, one of the world’s biggest beverage companies, has sold off its Australian and UK division.
There’s nothing quite like announcing an AU $290 million deal when everyone’s left the office for a week or two and have mince pies rather than pie charts on their mind. Of course, you can’t brush this one under the carpet but it has happened without too much fuss.
An Australian private equity fund, CHAMP, has bought the businesses and the deal is expected to be complete by the end of January. It includes the transfer of Constellation’s Australian, UK, and South African brands, wineries, facilities, vineyards, and the company’s 50% interest in Matthew Clark, the UK wholesaler. All CWAE employees will transfer with the business but there is uncertainty for those staff who will be unsure as to the future holds in 2011.
Constellation’s CEO Rob Sands said Australian wine no longer offered the profit margins it expected as part of its premiumisation strategy. “Constellation has implemented a strategy focused on driving profitable organic growth through premiumizing its world class brand portfolio and improving margins, return on invested capital and free cash flow,” he said. “The CWAE business sells quality wines from the important Australian appellation and has significant scale, but continues to be faced with challenging market conditions. Therefore, the business is no longer consistent with Constellation’s strategy.”
How did Constellation get into this sticky wicket? It paid US$1.1 billion for BRL Hardy in 2003. It was part of an acquisition trail, which included buying Zinfandel producer Ravenswood for close to $150m and Mondavi for more than $1bn. The debt soon piled up, the global economic crisis hit, Australian wine slumped and other wine producing countries got their act together. Not a recipe for success.
So, Hardy’s is off to pastures new at a fraction of the price paid in 2003 and Constellation has thrown plenty of extras in as part of the deal. They must have been feeling in the Christmas spirit.
Phil Laffer is retiring after 50 years in the wine biz and handing over the Jacob’s Creek reins to Bernard Hickin (this episode’s cameraman - cheers, Bernie!). At the changing of the guard, Phil gets his 60 seconds (well, a bit more actually) to talk about where who’s going to win the Ashes and where he’s off next…
Drinker of the world unite! We are on the eve of a rosé revolution. As you can see, I have started early.
Ok, it just so happens I’m writing a piece for this week’s Herald on Sunday on rosé but I’m all for becoming a member of the pink proletariat, rising up against the red classes.
The rosé effort has been half-hearted for far too long. Many producers only started making pink as a by-product in a bid to make their reds more concentrated. By ‘bleeding off’ a proportion of the juice from the tank, this leaves a greater proportion of skins to juice. As skins are responsible for the colour and tannin, this meant great tannin and colour of the juice remaining in tank. The stuff that is bled off, ends up fermenting without any skins and thus remains pale.
Producers in Provence are a little more passionate about their pink growing grapes and vinifying them specifically for rosé. In fact, 80% of production in Provence is rosé and their pinks are the envy of the world.
There are already more than 800 people signed up to the revolution’s facebook page. There are ‘meet-ups’ planned from Adelaide to Santiago. The live tweet up takes place tomorrow at 1900 AEST – so if you’re in the UK it’ll be an early start on the bottle. If you want to join in the pink uprising, go to the Rose Wine Revolution site
I’m still not sure about these tweet-ups: people drinking wine and then discussing their tasting on the live-feed doesn’t excite me, perhaps because I find reading tasting notes as interesting as watching paint dry. However, getting people to think about rosé, attend a rosé event and view it as a category in its own right can only be a good thing. Producers should also take full opportunity to use it to raise the profile of their rosés, particularly with summer coming. So well done to Leanne de Bortoli and Steve Webber of De Bortoli wines for standing up for the pink proletariat. We have nothing to lose but our chains…or should that be livers?
It’s good to see Bordeaux taking the bull by the horns and admitting things have gone slightly awry for the majority of the region’s wine industry.
It has recognised that beyond the prized ‘classed growths’, the financial state and the structure of the region’s grape growers and winemakers is pretty dire. The economic crisis has precipitated their demise but it was always coming, particularly with the decline in consumption in the domestic market.
While it is widely recognised that Bordeaux is the most prestigious region in the world, the generic brand has been damaged by low quality players who provide poor value for money. Bordeaux under £10? I wouldn’t bother.
The region is too serious and elitist compared to Australia, for example. The labels are confusing and the wines can be somewhat austere when tasted next to friendly, fruit-filled New World Cabernets.
Bordeaux Tomorrow is a 27-page plan to address the region’s strengths and weaknesses on a global stage.The main points are:
-make the offer easier to read by the consumer
-enhance the level of perceived quality
-help non-competitive players to become more successful
-encourage consolidation of cooperatives
-become stronger in generic appellations
-fight counterfeit wines
The scheme will be rolled out over the next three years.
Part of the plan is to categorise the wines in a similar vein to Wine Australia. It does not have Brand Champions or Regional Heroes but Art, Exploration, Fun and Basique. This seems rather airy-fairy to me but we’ll see what they do with it. It looks like they’re going to try and select a small selection of wines in each category for particular export markets to fight the good fight.
They don’t say how much money is going to be behind this new push but they will need more than simply good intentions to make this a success.