Peter Dry’s varietal egalitarianism
Sunday 12 February
Have you heard of Erbaluce? Or Manzoni Bianco? No? Nor me.
But Peter Dry, a viticulture expert at the AWRI, suggested that these two varieties should be considered by cool climate producers, instead of the usual suspects. Indeed international varieties have gained a rather superior status, and he is championing ‘varietal egalitarianism’. Let’s face it there are thousands of varieties out there and we are rather limiting consumers’ choices.
Dr Richard Smart added, “It’s rather insulting to consumers to limit varieties to half a dozen varieties.”
So, why should we be considering the likes of Erbaluce and other so-called alternative varieties?
“These varieties may be better suited to climatic conditions including drought tolerance,” said Dry. “There are cool climate areas with low growing season rainfall and high aridity.
“During times of drought our cool climate areas have sufered because they rely on water stored in dams and the dams are empty.”
As well as it being more suitable to increasing temperatures and lower rainfall, people might actually prefer to drink something other than Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. “They may provide a greater range of flavours suited to the Asian palate. According to a CSIRO study, alternative varieties including Lagrein and Fiano may be better suited and may offer a competitive advantage.” said Dry
So, what is Erbaluce? An Italian white variety, that reaches maturity relatively early, is tolerant of botrytis, has good acidity and elegance. Manzoni Bianco, another Italian grape provides “good wine quality with structure and floral characters,” he added.
Strachan’s reign to end at the WFA
Monday 9 January
First of all, apologies to my regular readers who have rightly had a moan about my non-posting of late. I have a good excuse - I’ve just got married so have been rather busy opening gifts and looking at photographs, wishing I could do it all over again.
But it’s back to the grindstone now with deadlines aplenty and studying starts apace with June’s MW exams not as far away as I’d like.
And June will come quickly for the CEO of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, Stephen Strachan, who will step down from his role after eight years at the helm.
He has overseen the inception of the Wine Restructuring Action Agenda (WRRA), the creation of the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate, and set up the Future Leaders’ programme during his tenure.
Strachan points to the creation of the WET rebate as one of his proudest during his reign at the Federation. It is designed to aid small Australian producers to claim an annual tax rebate of 29% up to a maximum of AU $500,000.
However it is currently causing controversy. In September, Pernod Ricard-owned Premium Wine Brands and Treasury Wine Estates called for the Australian federal government to reform the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate, claiming it is sustaining the country’s glut.
Strachan admits, “It does need some reform. The rebate is not intended for bulk wine but growers have been producing surplus grapes and converting it to wine to sell through certain retail outlets at discounted prices. In these cases, the WET rebate is keeping the producers in the market and hitting the pace of reform.”
While Strachan will leave behind an industry “with big issues” he also believes Australia is on its way to building a sustainable wine industry – albeit slowly. It is taking longer than hoped but restructuring of the industry is going on amid a global financial crisis and an Australian currency boom. Their timing was clearly off.
New Zealand wine lightens up
Sunday 4 December
Back in May, I complained that while the New Zealand wine industry prided itself on its green credentials, it had thus far failed miserably on environmentally friendly packaging (making me somewhat unpopular with various members of the NZ trade!)
While the rest of the wine world has turned to lightweight bottles, plastic (a.k.a PET) bottles, and tetrapaks, Kiwis had been stuck in the twentieth with heavy bottles. The lightest bottle available in New Zealand was 450g yet the Aussies were already down at 330g, reducing energy use by 20% and water by 12%.
At the time, Mike Needham, national sales manager for glass bottle manufacturer O-I, admitted it was expensive technology to install, and New Zealand was a relatively small producer of wine. “I don’t think people will go down to 350g or 300g. We have found very few people that are interested. The industry has not been as demanding here as in Australia,” he said.
Yet there was interest from producers. And this week, Nelson organic producer Richmond Plains has bottled its first wine in a 325 gram bottle.
Lars Jensen, owner of Richmond Plains, says, “It has been a big challenge to find suitable lightweight bottles in New Zealand. The lightest bottles we have been able to use previously were 40% heavier. So these really do make a big difference to the environment and across our business.”
The bottles are 20 mm shorter which means it is possible to stack more cases onto a pallet and fit more into a container. Taking fewer resources to produce and transport, reducing fossil fuels consumption significantly. They are also much lighter for trade and customers to handle with a case weighing 1.5 kg less at just 13kg.
Jensen adds, “Maximising the use of our resources and minimising our impact on the environment is a global issue so we’re very excited to be leading the way by using such lightweight bottles.”
I hope that others will follow their lead.
Unfortunately, consumers often feel they are getting better value for money and a better wine if it is packaged in a heavy bottle.
However, a WRAP study found bottle weight differences of up to 40% (for an empty container) and 20% (for a full container) were not noticed among a significant number of those surveyed, so perhaps if the proportions of the bottle mimic those of a heavier equivalent there will be little impact in perceived values.
Eden Valley’s message on a bottle
Monday 28 November
Eden Valley Riesling producers have launched a proprietary bottle, embossed in the same vein as Chateauneuf du Pape. And the first vintage using this bottle - 2011 – is hitting shelves now.
The green flute has a symbol on the front representing the rolling hills of the Eden Valley and the region’s name is also embossed. It gives the region’s wines much better on-shelf presence and gives confused consumers a better idea what to expect if they’ve tried an Eden Valley Riesling before.
While it’s early days for the bottle, the region’s two biggest producers, Yalumba and Peter Lehmann, have not come on board for the first release. The price per bottle - some quote 90 cents, others more, others less - is perhaps a little high, particularly in the current economic climate when producers are looking to cut costs. However, a special mould had to be created to produce the bottles hence the high cost. What’s more, the Eden Valley is not a mass producer so the economy of scale is certainly not there to bring costs down.
Yalumba’s Louisa Rose, explains their decision. “The issue for us is that it’s quite expensive and our brands are much bigger than most. It’s a commercial decision at the moment but I think it’s a great idea.”
And Ian Hongell, winemaker at Peter Lehmann, adds “We are not using the Eden Valley bottle because we have our own proprietary bottle.”
Yet, if the biggest producers came on board, they would have the economy of scale, and the project would have more clout.
One of the area’s most renowned producers, Henschke, has bottled its 2011 Julius Riesling in the proprietary bottle but Stephen Henschke admits, “Not enough are using it but I think more people will be influenced to start.”
I certainly hope more producers do come on board. It is a small region that is technically part of the Barossa zone and there is very little awareness of the area.
Thus far the Clare Valley has achieved a higher profile status for its Rieslings but with greater unity and widespread adoption of this bottle, there is an opportunity for the area to become known as the premium Australian Riesling region. It should take a leaf out of Central Otago’s book, which has become known as the leading new world Pinot Noir producer through its collaborative marketing efforts.
There is a real opportunity for the region: Eden Valley Rieslings offers fresh wines that are clean and modern, and would suit the current consumers’ appetite for vibrant, unoaked styles. With moderate alcohol levels (12-12.5%), lemon, lime and lavender aromatics, they would appeal to a wide audience.
Yet it is relatively unknown: as part of the Barossa, it often gets overshadowed by its bigger brother. The proprietary bottle is a good start to increase its recognition, but it shouldn’t stop there.
*Packaging manufacturer Amcor produces the proprietary bottles. I have contacted them, asking for details on production costs, price per bottle and units sold thus far but they have not responded to my calls.
What future for Wine Future?
Thursday 10 November
Wine Future is over for another two years.
Did things improve after the car crash first day?
Well, it didn’t get any worse. And there were some interesting insights worthy of a news story from Prosecco estimating it will quintuple in size by 2035 to one billion bottles plus some revealing statistics: Wine Intelligence’s Lulie Halstead revealed social media was relevant to just 13% of regular wine drinkers in the UK but 62% in China. Food for thought
On the last afternoon, I did a tour of the conference, getting folks’ opinions. The main benefit of the conference? Networking. How often do you get Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker and co. in the same room? It was a great opportunity to reconnect with contacts and old friends and meet new ones.
I am also much more knowledgeable about the Asian markets thanks to Jeannie Cho Lee, sommelier Yang Lu from the Peninsula, Shanghai and Don St Pierre Jnr of ASC.
The conference finished with a final debate on the ‘future of wine’ with an illustrious panel. Yet it failed to deliver any excitement. The conference should have gone out with a bang with the high profile names on stage but instead ended with a fizzle, with many shuffling out before the conclusion.
If there is to be a future for Wine Future (and there’s plans for Brazil 2013), exhibitors and other delegates have to speak out about the issues they had, not just confide that they agreed with what I said in my blog in a private moment (although thanks for the support)!
I want more debate, smaller break off seminars and less time allowing the biggest players in the industry to tell us about their company. What do you want?