Pink proletariat unite!
Sunday 28 November
The beginnings of the revolution
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?
South Africa: Safari so goodie
Tuesday 31 August
So I’ve finally made it to South Africa after eight years working in the wine industry and this being Africa, day one meant safari.
I’m not sure what I was expecting as I boarded the Big 5 Wine Safari vehicle at Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch but it wasn’t a comparison between a white rhino and Sauvignon Blanc, that’s for sure. But life is full of surprises.
Wrapped in a fuchsia pink blanket to stave off the cold spring day, our tour guide Ivan took us around the wine safari, also known as a vineyard tour.
“Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said “is like a lion. The lion is the king of the jungle. When Cabernet is young, it is aggressive on the palate; as it becomes older, the tannins calm down, just like when a lion ages.”
Hmm, a bit tenuous, but I see what you’re driving at Ivan and I’ve never heard a wine compared to a wild animal before. It’s refreshing for a wine journalist who has seen enough stainless steel tanks and barrels to last a life time.
Sauvignon Blanc…which of the Big 5 safari animals would it be? The white rhino, of course. The link was fresh green grass: the rhino eats it; the wine smells like it.
Cabernet Franc is apparently like an elephant because they both have thick skin and you can keep the wine for a very long time. Warwick does a single varietal Cab Franc, a relative rarity in South Africa, but I couldn’t see any relation to Dumbo or Nelly.
The buffalo is another safari favourite but it’s unpredictable and wild hence the comparison with Pinotage. And last but not least Merlot gets likened to a leopard – because it’s smooth. For wine connoisseurs, it might seem a bit silly but the wine industry needs a bit of fun injected into its rear end. It’s a great way to educate the consumer, link the wine trade with a successful tourism industry - and make wine seem less elitist.
Hugh Johnson brands Mosel bridge plan ‘folly and desecration’
Sunday 13 September
You don’t expect to see graffiti daubed on a vineyard wall in the Mosel but in the historic vineyards of Urziger Wurzgarten, there it is for all the boat-tripping pensioners to see: ‘The Mosel is crying. Education not bridges!’
So why have the Mosel locals taken up graffiti art?
Work on a needless road bridge across the Mosel has begun, costing 270 million euros (that figure is according to the German government - opponents believe the final figure will be closer to 500m euros). The 160-metre-high bridge will run across the Mosel from the village of Urzig connecting to new four-lane motorway above some of the best Riesling vineyards in the world.
The road will run on a ridge above the famous vineyards of Zeltingen, Wehlen and Graach, mowing down the forest land. The deep trenches needed to build the road will cut off vital water to the surrounding vineyards, add to pollution and ruin a popular tourist area.
The vineyards below the bridge’s path will also be permanently affected by shadow.
The project was first on the table following World War II to build a link between northern and southern Europe – and to connect to Frankfurt Hahn airport – a former US army base and now a Ryanair destination. The project seemed to have been abandoned recently.
Eveline Lemke, head of the Green Party in the region told me, ‘Even private investors rejected the idea because there was not enough traffic to justify it. Then the economic crisis hit and the government created a 400 billion euro fund to put into an economic rejuventation programme. They said “Let’s do the projects we didn’t have the money to do before”’.
Hence we have this bridge and 4-lane motorway that will cut journey times from the north to the south of the country by a not-very-impressive 30 minutes.
Hugh Johnson has joined the protestors and hasn’t minced his words. ‘I never expected to see the German government make such an assault on such a precious and prestigious wine region. There is a great folly and desecration about to be committed.’
‘This will not bring prosperity to the region. People won’t stop, they will just drive through this amazing valley at 100 miles per hour,’ he added.
Local biodynamic producer Rudolf Trossen is a passionate opponent of the bridge. He said, ‘The politicians should take their dirty fingers away and leave us alone. It will ruin the region’s best asset. If there was a reason to build the road, we would be happy to talk about it but there simply isn’t enough traffic’.
This has been hastily pushed through with no surveys into the impact on the environment, local wine industry and tourism. The politicians have completely overlooked the reputation of the Mosel for a piece of tarmac. But there seems to be apathy in the region with protesters struggling to rouse locals into action. It needs critical mass. As a wine lover, I want to get the local population and shake some sense into them. They don’t know what they are on the verge of losing and need to get off their rear ends and help producers save their area from destruction.
Argos and its role in Bordeaux tourism
Wednesday 29 July
The word Argos conjures up images of a retail chain with an enormous catalogue and a strange ordering system involving small slips of paper and even smaller pens. However, I ended up on the back of a horse called Argos today in Bordeaux, and it was a million miles from the high street homeware store.
Argos and I ventured through the vineyard of Ch. Rieussec, owned by the Rothschild family, before trotting through LVMH-owned Ch. d’Yquem’s vines and then over the road to Suduiraut. Unfortunately Argos liked to eat constantly so the vines’ canopies are a bit patchy in places now. The horse also had a bit of a wind problem no doubt due to the non-stop munching. Greed and flatulence aside, horse riding through Sauternes turns out to be a great way to see the vineyards and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Check out Ferme Equestre
Not only did I have problems with the horse; the canoeing excursion in Sauternes was equally eventful. I paired up TV chef Dean Simpole-Clarke to paddle down the Cirons – the tributary that meets the Garonne river and is responsible for the famous fog that causes the noble rot essential to make Sauternes. Unfortunately, the canoe had a leak and we ended up sinking slowly. The other boats seemed sturdier and can be hired from the village of Bommes in the heart of the Sauternes region at www.bommes-nautique.new.fr
Bordeaux beyond the châteaux
Wednesday 29 July
I’m on a research trip to Bordeaux this week but there are no barrel room tours involved. Instead of writing about the intricacies of claret I’m researching what the region has to offer tourists beyond the wineries.
It turns out the region is a golfing hub. I’ve always thought golf spoiled a good walk but I’m slowly coming round to the idea it might be enjoyable. I had my first-ever golf lesson yesterday and while I probably won’t be taking up the sport after my abysmal performance on the driving range (my putting was a little more respectable), the Golf du Médoc complex has plenty to offer the wine lover who needs time out from all the eating and drinking. It’s got 72 holes of golf action, each named after a Médoc chateau. Apparently the par 3 on the 5th, otherwise known as Château Pontet Canet sorts out the men from the boys. As I struggled to hit the ball, I’m unlikely to make it past the first hole let alone make it to the fifth.
Plastic penguins and pit bulls
Bordeaux has been seen as a region that is impenetrable to tourists without an appointment or a contact in the wine trade. Two years ago, France’s equivalent of Tony Laithwaite, Philippe Raoux, opened a free visitor centre and wine shop to make the region more people-friendly complete with plastic red penguins at the entrance. La Winery may not be imaginatively named and the huge complex may look like a cross between a greenhouse and a warehouse but it’s a great place for those who know little about wine to start with an introductory video and a 4x4 Land Rover vineyard tour. There’s a sculpture park to walk around with four-foot high blue plastic pitbull terriers, which is a bit off-putting, but you can’t fault their originality!
Ok, so you can’t come to Bordeaux without talking a little bit about wine. Gavin Quinney is an Englishman who owns Château Bauduc in Entre-deux-Mers. Unfortunately his tenth year at the property has proved to be difficult with severe hailstorms wiping out 80% of his crop in May. He’s even kept some of the hailstones in his freezer and they’re the size of golf balls. No wonder the grapes didn’t survive. Individual properties from St Emilion to Graves experienced similar devastation, which must be a major blow in such difficult economic times.