Category Archives: Wine

WOTM: Ktima Biblia Chora ‘Ovilos’ White, Pangeon, Semillon Assyrtiko 2019

Recently awarded 97 points and a Platinum Medal at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards, Ktima Biblia Chora ‘Ovilos’ 2019 truly is a world-beating wine. The wine is a 50/50 blend of Semillon and Greek indigenous variety, Assyrtiko, which are grown in the warmest but most barren spot in the vineyard, along the Pangeon hillside.

In a nutshell

The distinctive and characteristic aromas of apricot and honey from the Semillon blend perfectly with the citrus and lemon notes from the Assyrtiko, with nuances of vanilla and nutty hints adding complexity. Elegant, with a creamy texture, this stylish wine is beautifully balanced by refreshing palate which leads to a long finish.

The producer

Ktima Biblia Chora is the innovative creation of Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou two of the most talented winemakers in Greece. The winery was established in 1998 and the privately owned vineyard lies on the cool climate slopes of Mount Pangeon, at Kokkinochori near Kavala. It has been farmed organically since day one. These exceptional, cutting edge wines are some of the best white wines in Greece, which have similarities to very good white Bordeaux – not surprising as Vassilis Tsaktsarlis studied with Denis Dubourdieu; the king of modern white Graves.

The wine

The Assyrtiko (pronounced Ah-SEER-tee-koe) and Semillon grapes were picked at optimum maturity and then carefully selected. The wine was vinified in the state-ofthe-art winery, using modern techniques to ensure the aromatics and varietal flavours were retained. Each variety was vinified separately in 225 litre French oak barrels, of which 50% were new and 50% were one year old. Maturation lasted for five months, with bâtonnage taking place in the barrel.

Head Start: Part Three, Harvest at Château de Campuget

Now slowly progressing through more parts of the business, Hallgarten’s Head Start Apprentice, Amica Zago, has just returned from working a vintage in the south of France. Château de Campuget borders the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc, marrying traditional elements from all three regions – an ideal opportunity to learn and get hands-on in the winery and the vineyard.

Following on from my fantastic few months spent in the Marketing team, I was able to embark on a once in a lifetime opportunity to work a harvest and gain an insight into the world of winemaking in the South of France. This was to be at the amazing Château de Campuget with Franck-Lin and his wonderful team.

Being able to witness the winemaking process and track the wine from the vineyard, to the tanks to the final product is a chance that Hallgarten has allowed me to undertake as part of the ‘Head Start’ Apprenticeship Scheme, and is an invaluable experience to anyone going into, or already working in the world of wine. Working a harvest gives you a complete understanding and appreciation of the product you are working with. And after a very long train ride, I was about to embark on this winemaking journey.

What you think would be the glorious world of making wine soon jolts you back to reality as the alarm goes off at 3:30am and long shifts are the norm – not that I was complaining!

Starting work in the very early hours of the morning, everyone comes into the winery on time and with a smile on their faces; winemaking is a job you do out of love rather than just as a job! The working day starts with the harvesting machine in the vineyard, picking the grapes and filling the tractors’ trailers, ready to be weighed and then dropped into the crusher – step one of the wine making process is now complete.

Before working a month in a winery, I had only made wine in a garage in Hertfordshire in the simplest form! Going to France and working in the winery with a full team and equipment you realise how much more there is to making incredible wines, than in a suburban garage winery. Every morning when you first start, then again at midday, you have to test the density of the wine in the tanks using a hydrometer also checking the temperature of the wine. The results are then passed back to the oenologist.

What did I learn?

There was so much to learn and I was able to put what I had already learnt from my Degree in Wine Business from Plumpton University into practise. Franck-Lin was keen to answer all my questions about winemaking enabling me to increase my knowledge immensely.

Something I didn’t know was why the grapes are picked in the early hours; this is because the grapes are cooler, reducing the risk of oxidation and also means that the grapes don’t have to be cooled while in the press.

I now understand the benefits of pumping over and the correct techniques required to produce good quality wine consistently. It was interesting to learn that different wines require different pumping over times, some require aeration during the pump over and others (for example zero sulphite wines) are not allowed the aeration.

What was my best part of my harvest experience?

Other than working alongside the most fantastic team in the prettiest of settings, my favourite part was definitely analysing the wines. On a daily basis the wines are analysed (sometimes more than once) on the alcohol percentage, pH level and total acidity. This is so that the oenologist can then work out whether any other ingredients (such as Malic Acid, Tartaric Acid or nutrients) need to be added to the juice. Wine analysis was very interesting to me as you were able to see how by adding certain ingredients balances out the wine. It was fascinating to analyse a wine in the morning, mix the ingredients recommended by the oenologist, adding them to wine while pumping over and then re-analysing and seeing and tasting the difference.

I can’t wait to taste the finished wines from the 2020 Chateau de Campuget vintages which I helped to make!

Greece Meets Ipswich

Now that parts of the UK have a small amount of freedom to dine in restaurants, socialise (at a socially distant distance) and taste new wines. Our team in the East of England jumped at the opportunity to partner with The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, to bring a taste of Greek wines to the area, paired with a four course menu with a suitably Grecian theme.

When you think of Ipswich, many associate the town with the disappointing football team more so than its food and drink scene, however there are so many hidden gems – one of which, The Salthouse Hotel, on its age old harbour is a beacon of hope!

The restaurant team have often shouted about the iconic Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko and in an effort to push the Eastern Mediterranean boundaries further, they decided to throw a Greek Wine Evening to showcase what the country has to offer to their guests.

And here is how the evening looked, with words from Ed Keith, Sales Executive in Hallgarten’s East Team:

Arrival drink – 2019 Agiorgitiko Rosé ‘4-6H’, Peloponnese, Gaia Wines

“A beautifully balanced and delicate Rosé that would give any usual suspect Southern French Rosé a run for their money. A perfect harmony of fresh red fruit, acidity and a hint of sweetness. Great modern packaging also.”

Pre Starter – 2019 Vidiano, Dafnes, Crete, Idaia Winery
Paired with – Tempura halloumi fritters with pickled carrot and orange salad served with a smoked tomato relish

“The real surprise for most. Incredible minerality, balanced rounded fruit, a touch herbs and a bone dry finish. Like a combination of Chablis and Muscadet. What could go wrong when there is deep fried cheese involved!”

Starter –  2019 Malagouzia, Single Vineyard Turtles, Florina, Alpha Estate
Paired with – Whole bream “En papilotte” for two to share with lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano

“Much more refined and elegant than some other Malagousia ‘sur Lie’ gives this an incredible texture to balance with the aromatic style of the wine. Refined stone fruits with a hint of citrus. Beautiful with seafood and stands up to spice brilliantly. It didn’t shout over the dish but you knew it was there.”

Main – 2013 Monemvasios Red, Laconia, Monemvasia Winery
Paired with – “Youvetsi” Braised lamb and tomato stew with orzo pasta, spinach and feta cheese

“Possibly my favourite “lockdown” wine. If a Barolo and Bordeaux had a baby this would be it. Generous but not overpowering fruit with a real feel of freshness. Add to this dry yet supple tannin and you have in my opinion a perfect red wine for winter or anytime to be honest. This is made for lamb, either stewed of grilled and it won the crowd!”

Dessert – 2008 Vin Santo, Santorini, Gaia Wines
Paired with – Honey and rosewater baklava, Pistachio nuts and cinnamon syrup

“I don’t need to convince anyone on this. Rich and luscious toffee, caramel and figs. Much more complexity and knocks spots off most other Vin Santo’s and certainly most dessert wines. It isn’t cheap but we only served this in 50ml measures so the bottle went a long way. A real point of difference on a list!”

WOTM: Tikveš ‘Cuvee Methodius’, Vranec 2019

The 05th October saw the second edition of the now annual World Vranec Day – a day filled with talks and panel discussions about the grape variety, all to help raise awareness around the world. Vranec is considered to be one of the most important red varieties in Republic of North Macedonia where our Wine of the Month for October – Tikveš ‘Cuvee Methodius’, Vranec 2019 – comes from.

In a nutshell

Aromas of blueberries and blackberries are complemented by roasted hints combined with fresh herbs through to a robust finish.

The producer

Every wine tells a story about the synergy between the soil, sun, grapes and the country of its origin. The Tikveš Winery has been narrating the Republic of North Macedonia’s story as a winemaking country since 1885. However, the Republic of North Macedonia remains one of Europe’s last undiscovered wine countries: it is a natural paradise of vineyards, mountains, lakes and rivers, with a climate perfectly suited to producing quality grapes. Located in the Tikveš region, the Tikveš estate sustainably cultivates indigenous varieties such as Smederevka, Vranec and Kratoshija. The grapes are vinified in the state-of-the-art cellar equipped with the latest technology under the watchful eye of illustrious consultant oenologist Philippe Cambie, resulting in a series of authentic and characterful wines

The wine

The grapes were destemmed, crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain the purity of fruit. When fermentation was complete, the young wine was pressed off its skins in a pneumatic press, cold stabilised, filtered and bottled with minimal sulphur.

Head Start: Part Two, Marketing Department

As part of Hallgarten’s Head Start Apprenticeship scheme, inaugural recruit, Amica Zago, has just finished her spell with the marketing team before embarking on a vintage in the South of France. Reflecting on her time in the team, Amica has learnt a lot about the marketing function in the business, from PR and communications, to events and awards.

The Head Start scheme is an 18 month long programme to develop the future talent of the wine industry, providing a 360-degree perspective of the wine sector from vineyard to table.

After the three amazing months in the Customer Service Team, I moved over to join the Marketing Department in January and have been working and learning alongside various sub-teams including communications, buying, events and brand management.

During my time in Marketing I had many interesting jobs and tasks to undertake on a daily basis. One of these included writing five blog pieces which have been published on the HN Wines Blog, including an article on Lebanese wines and one on sweet wines.

I was also responsible for writing our internal communications keeping the team updated on wines that had recently featured in press publications. Something I personally found exciting was reading the press releases I had written featured on Harpers Wine and Spirit news website on Hallgarten’s signing of contracts with both Goodwood and Ascot Racecourse, and Hallgarten’s impressive WSET course pass rates.

I was also tasked with several larger projects to work on throughout my secondment. My major project was evaluating press coverage and the influence it has on our trade customers’ purchasing habits. For this project I researched various publications containing mentions of wines from Hallgarten, breaking these down to regional and national newspapers, trade publications and articles sourced from events. Then looking at each individual write-up and seeing if there were spikes in sales after the publications. From doing this, I learnt so much about the world of PR and media, and how a recommendation or comment really can influence purchasing habits.

Another area of the Marketing Department I got to experience first-hand is events. While in the team I was able to attend and assist the team in many events including tastings organised by wine bodies, the Annual Tasting and Minerality: Steve Daniel in Conversation with Dr Jamie Goode, the latter of which was live broadcast on Instagram. At the Hallgarten Annual Tasting I had the role of mentoring the Plumpton College students who were pouring at various producer tables. While at the tasting I also had a recorded conversation with Peter Richards MW about the Head Start Apprenticeship which has been included in Peter Richards’ podcast; Wait, wine can be a career?! (well worth a listen!).

Now, my next adventure as the Hallgarten Head Start Apprentice is taking me to France for the whole of September to work and experience the harvest at Château de Campuget, an exciting producer sitting on the border of three great wine regions – Southern Rhône, Provence and Languedoc.

Are the days of long lists numbered?

Jon Harris, Hallgarten’s Director of Scotland and NW England has pondered the future of long lists and just what a short list would comprise of.

First up, I agree the question is quite ambiguous – the answer really is dependent on the kind of venue you are talking about; however for this piece I am considering a long list being one that is 60 bins or so.

In my opinion there are still some places where a wine list should be a leather bound tome, covering every country, region and producer imaginable – the type of wine list you can happily spend a few hours flicking through. Wine is hugely emotive and romantic for many, and the UK market is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. It is vital our top sommeliers and buyers keep this tradition alive. 67 Pall Mall is the shining beacon of this.

All that being said, for a huge proportion of the UK On trade it is simply not a sensible option. With a move to a more casual cooking and dining style (just look at Nathan Outlaw’s announcement in June closing his 2-star Michelin flagship restaurant to replace it with a ‘more accessible’ dining option) it is important the modern wine list keeps pace.

I am sure some of the traditionalists even within my own business will disagree, but I believe you can build an exceptional, balanced and exciting list in under 40 bins. Here’s how it could look:

  • 3 or 4 sparkling wines. You can cover entry-level, an interesting upsell or Rosé and a Champagne
  • 10 to 14 whites and reds. Anything less than this and you run out of room for the more esoteric wines, certainly once you include the “must haves” (Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, etc)
  • 3 Rosé allows a range of styles and regions to suit customer pallets and price points
  • 2 or 3 sweet wines, including fortified – unfortunately a declining category but essential for a quality restaurant. Try adding them to your dessert menu as well as or instead of the wine list.

There are a number of benefits of a shorter list. Firstly this approach allows a range of list design options, from the more traditional by price or alphabetical by country, to a modern style-based model. I am a big advocate of a list constructed by style/flavour profile: it forces the customer to read the list to find what they actually want to drink, rather than purely selecting by price or grape variety. It also makes sure the list’s creator is offering an even(ish) balance of styles, not simply what they like to drink.

Having a more concise list also allows you to include and give focus to some exciting and esoteric wines at key price points. On a larger list these quirkier wines can often get lost as customers search for something they recognise, or rely on a Sommelier’s recommendation. Here they are front and centre.

The shorter list gives you the opportunity to offer a large majority (or all) of the list by the glass. This not only has margin benefits, as the GP on glasses is usually higher than by the bottle, but offers the customer the chance to experiment and experience the range.

A shorter list by no means removes the need for a Somm or buyer; in fact, it arguably makes their role more important – shorter lists need to be regularly changed, usually seasonally, in line with food menus. This means the link between food and wine is more important than ever, and any decisions must make real commercial sense and not purely be whimsical.

An important financial consideration is stockholding value. A more concise list will automatically help control par levels and stock management. In the On trade where margins and cash are almost always tight (particularly at the moment), it is vital not to tie up too much in stock.

Finally team training. This has become increasingly important over the years and can have a huge impact on wine sales. A couple of years ago, one large national customer of ours was able to attribute a 7% growth in value and volume directly to our training programs. A shorter list makes training easier, and opens it up to all the team, not just a select few wine specialists and Sommeliers. If all your team are selling better wine, it will drive incremental margin.

I understand that for the purists out there having a list with just one or possibly no Bordeaux or Burgundy mentioned will simply not cut it, but for much of the trade I believe an exciting, regularly changing, concise list is absolutely the way forward, not just financially but predominantly to enhance the guest experience.

A Brave New World…

Sometimes we all need the tried, tested and familiar around us, whether that it is our choice of food, drink, fashion or general lifestyle. But sometimes – and social media is a great inspiration here – we need to think outside of our comfort zone. Wine is no exception.

Here at Hallgarten & Novum we are proud of our eclectic offering in terms of wines, whether that be new grape varieties or unfamiliar countries (when it comes to winemaking.)

And it is often the “Old World” which is leading the way.

I remember the first time that Steve Daniel introduced me to our new wines from Armenia; I was so impressed by the lovely perfume of the Karmrahyut grape, vibrantly redolent of rosemary and lavender. Our new range from Vachnadziani is a wake-up call, with refreshing mineral laden whites from those hard to pronounce varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Krakhuna and Mtsvane putting me in mind of good Chablis.

Grape varieties such as Santorini’s Assyrtiko have established themselves in our UK market as go-to wines, and are now spreading their influence to other countries. We have examples of this grape from the Lebanon from Oumsiyat and Australia’s Clare Valley from Jim Barry, all showing the lovely freshness and salinity which has made the grape so popular.

Winemakers are rediscovering old techniques such as fermentation in amphora. Look out for the amphora wines from Rocim from the Alentejo region in Portugal where traditional vinification in ‘tahla’ meets modern winery techniques.

With global warming, some regions are now being forced to rethink the varieties that have traditionally been the mainstay of their vineyards as producers are faced with higher temperatures, less water availability and more weather extremes.  Bordeaux, for example, is looking at different varieties such as Alvarinho, Marselan and Touriga Nacional which are more mildew resistant and can cope with the warmer temperatures which are driving up the alcohol levels of Merlot in particular leading to a change of style compared to 20 years ago.  The traditional wines of Bordeaux may look very different in the future!

With 40 years in the wine trade and 24 years as an MW behind me, one of the pleasures that I continue to have is to discover grape varieties and wines hitherto unknown to me and then to share this enthusiasm and encourage consumers to explore these wines for themselves in this Brave New World of wine.

Great Wines, That Don’t Cost the Earth

As consumers, we all want to do the right thing for our health and the health of the planet, and buy organic and sustainable. Until very recently this meant paying more and in many cases radically changing our buying habits.

Historically organic wines were quite rare and we would have to pay a significant premium for them, and sustainably produced wines were rarely mentioned. I remember having conversations with consumers about organic and sustainably produced wines, and they were just not interested. I also remember having conversations with wine producers who were farming organically and sustainably and asking them why they were not shouting about this; their response was no one is interested, and in fact, some consumers think organic wines won’t taste good!

How times have changed. I think most people in the supply chain are acutely aware of the impact us humans have on the planet.

Winemakers and grape growers have worked relentlessly in the last 30 years to increase quality at every price level. Initially the biggest and quickest increases came from investment in winemaking equipment, technology and expertise and it became possible to make very drinkable wine, at very attractive prices. There were massive investments in the wineries and winemakers. But technology is only a part of the equation.

The more forward-thinking producers soon realised that their biggest and most precious asset is their vineyards – it’s also the most fragile. If a piece of machinery breaks you can repair or replace it. If your winemaker leaves you can find another. It’s just a question of a little time and money.  A vineyard is a living thing. It is a whole ecosystem and if you abuse it you can irreversibly damage it and jeopardise your unique asset. If you break it, you cannot just throw money at it. You have to work out the best way to treat your vineyard to allow it to produce good fruit for the longest time. You also need to protect those living things that work in your vineyard, including your work force! This is a long term investment in time, money and working practice.  Invariably this means adopting a sustainable holistic approach.

This is something that the artisanal small domains have known for a long time; the wines they produce are outstanding and you pay a premium for them. The fact that many larger producers have now adopted the same principles means that you can now get organic, sustainably and ethically produced wines at everyday prices. You no longer have to go massively out of your way or pay a huge premium to get great tasting wines that won’t cost the earth.

We are very proud to represent many forward thinking producers of all sizes. Below is just a selection of producers that are ticking the sustainable boxes and producing amazing wines.

Colomba Bianca, Sicily

Sicily and Italy’s largest certified organic producer with over 2,000 hectares of organically farmed vineyards. Try their fantastic ‘Vitese’ Grillo.

Perez Cruz, Chile

One of the pioneering wineries of the sustainable movement in Chile. They have been farming sustainably since 2005 and are one of the first boutique producers in Chile. Their Cabernet must be one of the best value for money red wines in the world, using fruit only from their estate-owned Alto Maipo vineyard.

Piattelli, Argentina

An wonderful family-run winery that operate vineyards in Mendoza and Cafayate, farmed sustainably and organically. The Alto Molino Malbec is a great introduction to the wines of Cafayate.

Echeverria, Chile

A family-run winery from Molina. One of the pioneers of modern winemaking in Chile, they farm organically and are certified Sustainable. Their No es Pituko “Natural Wine” range are must tries – give the Chardonnay a whirl.

Lake Chalice, New Zealand

A boutique, fully sustainable producer, making stunning food friendly wines. The Nest Sauvignon Blanc is a stand-out great value Marlborough Sauvignon.

Prapian Estate, Italy

The pride and glory of the Sacchetto family. A beautiful new winery and an amazing organically farmed vineyard, creating an sublime single-vineyard Prosecco. A real step up in quality from regular Prosecco. Try the Brut Organico Valdobbiadene.

Peninsula, Spain

Modern winemaking, major investment and a sustainable and organic approach in the vineyards. All the wines are technically brilliant. Try the Tempranillo which is a Gold Medal winning wine in SWA 2020.

Undurraga, Chile

Sustainable historic winery, making cutting-edge wines from some of the best vineyard sites in Chile. Try the ground-breaking TH range – the Chardonnay from Limari is spectacular.

Gérard Bertrand, France

Gérard is one of the pioneers of Biodynamic wine production in the Languedoc-Roussillon and the largest “Bio” producer in France. His Naturalys range is exceptional value and the Naturalys Merlot stands out above the rest.

Matias Riccitelli, Argentina

Matias is one of the superstars of Argentinian wine. He supports low intervention winemaking and organic grape growing. His wines truly represent the outstanding vineyards he works with. You must try Not Another Lovely Malbec – artisanal winemaking at a great price.

Herdade Do Rocim, Portugal

This is an amazing project in the Alentejo.  Fully signed up to Sustainable farming,  the grapes are all farmed organically – 70% are certified the rest in conversion. Minimum intervention in the winery and only natural yeasts are used. The wines are produced in the renowned Vidigueira area of the Alentejo the resulting wines have a freshness not often associated with the Alentejo. Try the Mariana Red.

Olifantsberg, South Africa

These are incredible handcrafted wines. The vineyards are farmed organically and heading towards Biodynamic. They believe in sustainable vine growing and winemaking and their style is very hands-off, with only natural yeast and use of large seasoned oak barrels and concrete eggs. These are beautiful handmade wines from one of the superstar producers of the future. Buy while you still can afford them! Try the amazing entry-level Chenin Blanc.

Finca Bacara, Spain

100% Monastell (Mourvedre) wines from high altitude vineyards in Jumilla. All the wines are made from organically farmed vineyards in a very modern fruit-forward style with eye-catching packaging. Try the Time Waits for No one White Skulls.

Bodegas San Alejandro, Spain

The Garnacha specialists of Spain. Working with high altitude vineyards in the Calatayud region, all their vineyards are farmed organically and are in conversion from 2019. They make great wines at all price points and consistently rate as some of the very best Garnachas coming out of Spain. Try the beautifully silky smooth and elegant Evodia.

 

Sustainability: We have no other choice

The problem is: it doesn’t sound very sexy. Sustainability.

Key word, at the moment, along with, say, Organic, or Biodynamic, or Natural. But an awkward word, too.

With Organic you get a wistful Tom and Barbara Good Life self-sufficiency schmaltz, you venerate weird carrots, and supplicate yourself – oh Lord! – to the soil, and perhaps (best of all!) subconsciously conjoin the word to a similar one which is very exciting.

Biodynamic, too, has its moments, with its odd combination of Rudolf Steiner argot, the bewilderment of physics, and a boyhood memory of Steve Austin, the world’s first Bionic Six Million Dollar Man.

And Natural is the best of the lot, redolent of Alpine yoghurt, the notion of innate talent, an appreciation of something not messed up by blokes, and, in the background, Aretha’s soaring You Make Me Feel….

But Sustainability – the yoke which brings those three together? Not many rock songs with that in the title. Inspiring nothing more than great spreadsheets, perhaps. Alice Feiring wrote that being sustainable is like being a little bit pregnant¹.

To be fair, in terms of wine, there is much much more to sustainability than solely how the wine is produced. The concept looks into every aspect of the journey from vine to consumer, including bottling, commercialisation, marketing, and human resources, and raises questions about energy usage, waste, social impact, carbon footprint and climate change.

But there is not one global definition or set of standards to which all producers can adhere – and therein lies an ambiguity.

Organic

Although consumers might assume that wine production has little impact on the natural world – in contrast to large-scale intensive agriculture – the reality is sadly different. Unfortunately, Vitis vinifera is a notoriously fragile plant. And most vineyards are monocultures that rely heavily on preventive spraying of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides to keep disease and pests at bay. “Awareness of the damage caused by overuse of chemical treatments has spread since French soil biologist Claude Bourguignon famously declared in 1988 that the soil of Burgundy’s vineyards was ‘dead’”³. Although it is simplistic, the growth of organic winemaking (which basically bans most chemicals from the vineyard and states that all additives need to be organic) is as a result of these concerns. It is rare today to find a French vigneron who does not espouse lutte raisonnée (literally ‘the reasoned fight’, meaning the measured use of sprays).

Biodynamic

Famously outlined by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in 1924, biodynamics is a holistic approach which focuses on maintaining soil health and linking soil management to lunar cycles, earth rhythms, and astrology – to guarantee happy vines. Some of the practices in biodynamics appear strange, such as using nine plant-derived “preparations” in crop management, and burying a cow’s horn full of manure into the soil, but advocates are convinced that the processes result in improved soil quality and overall vineyard health.

Natural

This is where it gets tricky. Basically, this takes the organic and biodynamic principles, but goes further in the winemaking processes, requiring that nothing be added or removed. The Naturalistes’ bête noire is sulphur dioxide (SO2). While sulphites are a natural side-effect of fermentation and are present in virtually all wine (“contains sulphites” must appear on the label if the wine has more than 10mg/l), the Naturalistes say that adding to this (EU rules allow for 160mg/l for red, 210 mg/l for white) changes the character of the wine, lobotomizes it and masks inferior quality grapes. And may give you a headache. Other key themes are using only wild yeasts, rather than inoculated, no fining, no filtration, and limited use of oak. The problem is that, unlike organic winemaking, which has strict certifications in every country of origin, no-one has codified the rules of natural winemaking.

One issue is that while the Organic/Biodynamic/Natural movements have definitely had an impact, they are still a little too much on the fringe to make a huge difference with general consumers. Which is why, despite its lack of cool, the doctrines of sustainability are so important:

  • Vineyard management does not just involve proscribing agrochemicals and cultivating other plants to encourage biodiversity, but also embodies the efficient use of energy, the reduction of gas emissions and the reduction and reuse of water.
  • In the winery, the use of renewable energy (solar panels, for example), and the reduction, recycling and reuse of waste are fundamental.
  • Wine packaging has been the subject of particular focus. Of all the carbon used in the manufacture of a wine bottle, 85% comes from the glass, 9% from the cardboard box of the packaging, 4% from the cork stopper, 1% from the paper label, and 1% from the plastic capsule: hence the call for lighter bottles.
  • Transporting the wine has come under scrutiny. Aircraft, trucks and ships are big emitters of CO2. The most common and environmentally-friendly route is by sea, five times less harmful than by land, and eleven times better than by air.
  • While all of these areas demonstrate direct causation, there are numerous secondary themes. Sustainability can cover the implementation of security, health, well-being, education and training programmes; it means encouraging an inclusive culture, with ethical standards of conduct, in which employees feel committed to the company’s philosophy.

Remember: this involves all aspects of the supply chain. Here at Hallgarten we are proud to have achieved ISO-14001 certification; gaining it has benefited not only our working environment but also our whole approach.

But there is also one other important driver, the game-changer: promoting a green image makes economic and common sense. There are unquestionable marketing advantages for producers to portray their wines as pure products, unsullied by chemicals. Which is why sustainable has become big business.

And which is why the number of sustainability certifications in the wine industry has proliferated in the last few years. They include:

  • The French government’s Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE). The target is for 50% of wine-growers to be certified HVE by 2025, with a 50% reduction in chemical sprays.
  • In New Zealand, 98% of producers have the Sustainable Winegrowing NZ certification, which requires adherence to standards in biodiversity, soil health, water usage, air quality, energy and chemical use.
  • 75% of Chile’s producers are certified sustainable. Producers have to meet the three “E’s” of sustainability – economic viability, environmental stewardship, and social equity.
  • Sustainable Australia Winegrowing is one of three certification programs of Australia’s EntWine program (whose goal is to foster environmental custodianship and continuous improvement).
  • In 2013, Bodegas de Argentina launched a sustainability protocol, modelled after the Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW) system, and modified to fit Argentina’s unique climate and growing conditions.

Making this transition to more sustainable methods is tough. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions: biocontrols that attract beneficial insects in one place may attract pests in another; vineyards in humid regions depend more on fungicides than dry regions. Sustainable methods tend to be more labour-intensive and yields lower than for conventional viticulture, so wine prices are higher.

But ultimately, we may have no other choice.

WOTM: Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019

In September we are taking a slightly different look at #CabernetDay, and celebrating with a Cabernet Franc Rosé – Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019. Cabernet Franc first became widely used in Loire Valley around the 17th century and is also one of the parent grapes that created Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recently announced as Tim Atkin’s Rosé Discovery of the Year in his 2020 Argentina report, this is a new addition to our portfolio and a Rosé well worth trying as we approach the Autumn months.
In a nutshell:

A refreshing rosé with intense floral aromas, with spicy and herbal top notes of white pepper, tomato leaf and basil. The unctuous palate has a silky texture and is beautifully balanced by bright acidity on the crisp, spicy finish.

The producer:

Founded in 2003, Andeluna produces premium mountain wines from their 70 hectare vineyard situated at an elevation of 1,300 metres in the rocky terroir of Gualtallary, Tupungato in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. By night, the moon can be seen illuminating the magnificent Andes Mountains nearby and the winery has been named after this stunning scene.

The vineyard is managed using sustainable practices and in 2015 the entire vineyard was soil mapped with cultivation methods adapted accordingly. Winemaker, Manuel Gonzalez (previously Head Winemaker at Pulenta Estate and Chief Oenologist at Trivento) works alongside Andeluna’s wine consultant Hans Vinding Diers, together they use minimal intervention to create outstanding wines which have propelled this producer into the global spotlight in a very short space of time.

The wine:

The fruit was vinified with minimal intervention following a philosophy of respecting the grape’s origins and terroir. The Cabernet Franc grapes were treated as though they were a white variety in the vineyard and the cellar. The grapes were immediately pressed with the free run juice being separated from the pressed juice. Only the freerun juice was used for this wine. Fermentation took place with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks, without the influence of oak, in order to retain the purity of fruit.

Wine Merchants, What is your point of difference?

As we publish this we are emerging out of the coronavirus lockdown, hospitality businesses are reopening and we are looking to establish the ‘new norm’. With all the noise going on, it is become more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

 Have you ever found yourself eating out (in the days when you used to be able to) scanning the list and seeing the same wine listed in other restaurants, wine bars and pubs you’ve been to before? In a similar way, if you see the shelves or check the websites of wine retailers up and down the country, really good wines do crop up again and again. That’s normally a sign of quality, and quite understandably a good wine is something that most buyers gravitate towards. Customers meet at winemaker dinners and producer trips and share their views and preferences, and it is inevitable that those conversations create curiosity and influence to an extent.

Although a list of SKU’s dotted with wines that are repeated elsewhere is not necessarily the sign of an identikit list, there is only so much differentiation you can make with your product range if you are selecting from the best suppliers, unless they have a dynamic, exciting, esoteric and regionally diverse list. With that in mind, how does a retailer really stand out from the crowd? As one of my mentors used to say, the most important difference you can make over your competitors in any business is ‘service, service, service’. It is amazing how you are prompted to rate any kind of product and service that you have used, and the truth is, that measure helps to elevate service levels especially with those where it does not come naturally. The bank I use has always been based on the principle of high levels of customer service, and everyone I have ever spoken to there is genuinely nice and helpful. It is in the company’s DNA. The garage I have to use for my car service contract is the polar opposite, where the staff were often surly and disinterested, and you can sense it is not a happy ship. Now that they are held to account for the way they interact with their customers, their attitude has definitely changed for the better, even though it does not seem genuine.

The wine business is no different. In the same way that you prefer to do business with a distributor that is flexible with minimum orders, where invoices and orders are accurate, arrive intact and when they are meant to, your customer expects the same reliability and flexibility from you. But that is only where the comparison begins; our customers are looking for a business partner they can trust with their advice on products, to share market data and analysis that shapes the way they interact with the consumer, with point of purchase ideas, which can range from shelf talkers to info-link labels accessible via your phone, and tips on category management by geography, style, occasion, shopper demographic, etc. Just as you are looking for a distributor who is willing to support you with producer dinners and tastings, in-store sampling and annual/bi-annual tastings , your customers are looking for a retailer they can trust to advise you about the wine that suits their requirements, and offers them regular opportunities to engage via events.

If things continue as they are, and lockdowns become ever more restrictive, those retailers with a decent website, where you can place your order and get the wine delivered, will have a distinct advantage as it stands. Those willing to adapt to the market conditions may thrive. Perhaps a distributor who offers to help with your orders – from picking to packing and delivering – would be an added bonus, so you can focus on selling and taking orders. I recently saw a flyer which had been popped through the letter box from a local florist which offered to help with deliveries of food and provisions to those that are house bound. It appeared to be a sincere act of kindness, and even if it is a shameless opportunity for good PR, where is the harm in that?

One thing is for certain, those that that have always offered that point of difference and continue to do so during this most difficult economic situation will emerge stronger ‘on the other side’ (to borrow one of the most utilised phrases of the moment).

WOTM: Larry Cherubino ‘Laissez Faire’, Pemberton, Pinot Noir 2018

With Pinot Noir Day around the corner, on 18th August, and the imminent launch of Assemblage issue #3 focused on Sustainability, we felt now was the perfect time to take a closer look at Larry Cherubino’s ‘Laissez Faire’ Pinot Noir 2018. While inspiration has been taken from organics, biodynamics and natural winemaking practices, the Laissez Faire range could be called ‘natural wines’; Larry Cherubino likes to think of them as “post natural” wines. 

In a nutshell

An elegant Pinot Noir expression, showing black cherry and strawberry notes with savoury undertones and delicate hints of oak spice. Smooth, long and silky.

The producer

Named ‘Winery of the Year’ by James Halliday and Matt Skinner, Larry Cherubino wants his wines to be distinctive and to speak clearly of their variety and vineyard site. He believes in paying meticulous attention to the vineyard, canopy and water management, picking at the right time and minimal intervention in the winery. Larry also makes wine under the Laissez Faire label, an exquisite range of natural wines which are the ultimate expression of site, made in small batches from hand-harvested grapes. From delicate whites to opulent reds, all his wines have pure class and finesse.

The wine

Laissez Faire means “let it be” and this is reflected in the hands-off approach of winemaking. The grapes were hand-harvested, sorted and naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine spent eight months maturing in French oak foudres, offering optimal fruit expression and oak integration. As the name suggests, no additional acids, enzymes or yeasts were added during vinification and the wine was not fined. There was zero sulphur use throughout the winemaking and only minimal sulphur was added at bottling.

For more information on Larry Cherubino ‘Laissez Faire’, Pemberton, Pinot Noir 2018 and wines of Larry Cherubino, click here.