Tag Archives: featured

The three pillars of sustainability

People – Planet – Profit. 

Sustainability. A hard and complex thing to define, as it covers so many different aspects but it does seem to be the current buzzword as we are all increasingly becoming more aware of our health, well-being and the environmental issues around us.

I recently attended a webinar on sustainability where it was mentioned that 25% of all greenhouse gases come from agriculture and animals, and the care of vines is no exception. The concept of ‘regenerative farming’ is central to an increasing number of wine producers who believe in the importance of biodiversity and the harmony of nature in the vineyard.

As a vineyard is in essence a monoculture of a perennial plant, disturbance to the soil should be kept to an absolute minimum to ensure that the natural micro-organisms in the soil are encouraged and maintained. Cover crops can be grown to capture carbon and to minimise water use, particularly where water used for farming is expensive to buy and may be short supply at certain times. Sheep are sometimes encouraged to graze in the vineyard on grass, and cover crops to encourage plant growth and biodiversity. Selected rootstocks may also be used to restrict the vine’s vigour, requiring less control. All of these different processes will encourage vines to use their own resources to work hand in hand with nature.

A good proportion of a winery’s emissions come from the use of diesel vehicles so far-thinking producers are making the investment in electrical vehicles for working their land – as we all will probably need to do in the not too distant future. Or indeed, revert back to the traditional use of a trusty plough horse leads to less compaction of the soil and is also a lovely thing to see!

A few of our producers are installing beehives in their vineyards to promote pollination and obtain honey as a welcome by-product! The composting of pruning and grape pomace for natural fertilisers is also becoming more widespread, rather than sending for distillation as in the past. Using sexual confusion in the vineyard from insect pheromones as an alternative to chemical pest control is becoming increasingly popular with growers as they realise the advantages for the environment.

Many people would automatically think that an organic wine would be sustainable by definition but with the contentious use of copper as a treatment against diseases in the vineyard, which is allowed under organic viticulture, and which can contaminate the soil as a heavy metal if it is used too frequently; the issue is more complex than just acceptance of all organic wines as sustainable.

Biodynamics are a continuation of this theme, where all vineyard practices (and winemaking) are carried out according to the moon phases, using specific treatments for disease prevention as well as natural fertilisers and which are now being recognised as more main stream – previously perhaps dismissed as rather hippy and ‘woo-woo’. I know from tasting wines which are produced using biodynamic and organic techniques that they seem to have more depth of flavour – more ‘soul’ and energy, if I can express it that way. One of our producers, the redoubtable Gérard Bertrand in the South of France is fully embracing this way of working with all of his estates either already certified as biodynamic or in conversion, and the results in the quality of his wines speak for themselves.

While researching the sustainable credentials of our suppliers, I was struck by how many of them have this ethos central to their production values and guides everything they do from vine to bottle. A great many of them have gone the extra mile and gained certification in their country – such HVE (Haute Valeur Environmentale) in France, WIETA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association) in South Africa, Sustainable Wine of Chile, Bodegas de Argentina Certified Sustainability, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, to name a few – all of these regulate the use of insecticides and pesticides as well as fertiliser and water usage with protection of the environment in mind, and to maintain the biodiversity of the local area.

Climate change is also necessitating a rethink by wine growers who have difficult choices to make if their vineyards are affected by the extremes of weather which we currently seem to be experiencing – by rot in the case of excessive humidity or Summer hail damage, whether to irrigate (if even allowed and if the vineyard is set up for it) in case of drought, loss of fruit caused by Spring frosts; the challenging factors are unfortunately endless.

If they are passionate about the environment and their philosophy is to avoid chemical treatments, the choice is stark. Either compromise on their principles and lose their sustainable or organic status or accept the loss of their crop with the accompanying loss of income. I remember talking to one of our organic producers a few years ago who had had to make that choice – and he decided to remain organic and lose the majority of the crop. I felt so sorry for him but admired his tenacity and adherence to his principles. The news coverage of the frost in France’s vineyards in April where the countermeasures taken in the form of burning straw or heaters raised their own issues with complaints about damaging the environment through smoke contamination is another case in point – faced with losing your burgeoning crop or taking these extreme measures, what decision would we make ourselves?

We are probably just at the start of the sustainable journey and I look forward to seeing how viticulture, and winemakers, adapt over the years to come.

WOTM: Brezza, Vigna Santa Rosalia, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018

A new addition to the Hallgarten portfolio, our July Wine of the Month is Vigna Santa Rosalia, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018, from Brezza was made organically, with minimal addition of sulphur. Recently awarding it 16.5 points, Jancis Robinson describes the wine as having “freshness and texture in spades.” We are very excited to have this, and the full range from Brezza, in our portfolio!

In a nutshell

A pale, perfumed wine with notes of berried fruit with characteristic hints of roses, violets and subtle earthy, savoury and leather notes.

The producer

The Brezza family own 12.5 hectares of vines split between the commune of Barolo (in Cannubi, Castellero and Sarmassa), the two hectare Santa Rosalia estate just outside the Barolo DOCG zone between Diano d’Alba and the town of Alba itself, and two further plots in Monforte d’Alba and Novello. Throughout the vineyards, the family practices an environmentally friendly approach to viticulture and the estate has been certified organic since the 2015 vintage. In the cellar, winemaker Enzo Brezza follows a traditional approach with minimal intervention. In order to maintain freshness and purity, many of the wines are bottled with glass Vinolok closures.

The wine

The grapes come from a 1.2 hectare single vineyard called Vigna Santa Rosalia, which was planted in 2004. Located around the town of Alba, it has been organically farmed since 2010. Situated at 300 metres’ elevation, the vines are planted at a density of 4,000 vines per hectare and have a westerly orientation, capturing the afternoon sunshine. The Nebbiolo vines are the Lampia and Michet clones and are grown on rootstocks K5BB and 420A. Guyot pruned and espalier trained, the vines are carefully cultivated by hand, with green harvesting and thinning taking place to control yields and increase the concentration of flavour in the grapes. Green manure is employed to enhance the vitality of the soil and the cuttings from the grass cover crops are left on the soil, to help increase the nutrient value. In accordance with organic viticulture, copper and sulphur are used when necessary; herbicides and pesticides are not employed. Harvest takes place by hand.

Wine descriptions, are they a waste of ink?

So let’s just say I’ve got some previous with wine descriptions on lists. Saying that I’ve got beef might be a little strong, but you could definitely conclude that I’ve had a love-hate relationship over the years.

From very early on in my wine career I decided that the generic descriptions made available to sales reps left a lot to be desired. Now this sounds a little arrogant but I remember thinking at the time, they don’t really mean anything, let alone activate sales. Let’s take a look at the following tasting note and see how inspired we all feel:

‘A lovely, refreshing wine with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, stone fruits and delicate notes of fresh acacia flowers on the nose.’

Blah, Blah, Blah! It’s just so boring and are consumers really that interested in this kind of information? Do they even know what acacia flowers smell like? I don’t, and I love a bit of gardening. I’ve always believed that customers would only read one or two generic descriptions before switching off.

Anyway, more on this later, but for now let’s get back to a young Joe Wadhams who thought he was going to reinvent the wine description. So the first problem that I encountered was that writing your own quirky descriptions takes a very long time. You’re constantly trying to not repeat yourself – which when you’ve got a limited Essex vocabulary like me was pretty tough. My theory was simple though: try to describe the wine in a way that consumers could relate to, and try to make them laugh at the same time. Some were definitely more random than others. I once described an Assyrtiko as a ‘volcanic Chablis on steroids’ or I might have even said it was ‘like licking a volcano’ – I was drinking solidly back then so it’s a little hard to recall. So you get the general idea, they were pretty random but strangely consumers were lapping them up. They actually sat at the table and took the time to read them, I was amazed but at the same time I felt vindicated. If you want someone to read something just make it interesting.

Anyway fast forward a few years and I moved onto one of the big boys in our industry. So my less than orthodox talent for writing rubbish and getting people to read it soon got noticed. Before I knew it I was thrust into a huge project with Matthew Jukes to write interesting descriptions for about 100 of our wines. Let’s just say our approaches were a little different, but after a couple of months we’d completed the mission. Matthew’s way of writing is fantastic but his descriptions were incredibly detailed, so I was tasked with giving them a little trim. So you could say that for two months I was Matthew Jukes’ Editor – I like the sound of that.

Moving on a couple of months and I was standing at our portfolio tasting and the company had decided to put some of our wine quotes up on the wall. One of the ones they used from me I’d actually ripped off Olly Smith after I’d seen him on the box. I remember it as if it was yesterday – ‘this wine is like taking a chair lift up the rock face of sheer freshness’. So you can imagine my unease when Olly and I are standing under this quote at our tasting with his eyes moving upwards towards my undoubted plagiarism. He took one look at me and then thankfully we both started laughing!

It’s safe to say that after this period I completely lost the plot. I’d quite simply OD(ed) on writing descriptions so I then took them in a new direction. I decided I no longer wanted to tell the customer anything about the wine, and instead concentrated on writing descriptions that made little sense. Two of my weirdest were as follows:

‘A smoking jacket and beagle are recommended with this Claret’

And my all-time favourite:

‘Anglo French writer Hillaire Belloc once wrote “I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin.” 

The crazy thing is customers still loved them. It does make you think that customers just want to read something that’s engaging. This reassured my belief that notes about flavour mean very little to the average consumer.

After this period of tasting note madness I went into retirement and haven’t written a wine description since. I reckon my hiatus has lasted for roughly 8 years now. During this period I played around heavily with style headings. My theory was that many consumers only needed to know what style of wine it was. For example with whites were they Crisp, Aromatic or Rich. This approach might seem incredibly simple, but it seemed to work a treat and did make training staff a whole lot easier. Plus I was no longer sitting up half the night spewing out random quotes from Anglo-French poets!

So as I’ve said, this carried on for some time until the other day when I was hosting a tasting with one of my key accounts. We were tasting a wine from Kefalonia which is aged underwater, and to be honest is a little leftfield but damn good. The common consensus from around the table was, ‘we love it but how are we going to sell it’? I then had some sort of out of body experience and shouted across the table, ‘why don’t we do descriptions’?

I tried to catch the words but it was too late, I’d said it. So it looks like I’ve now gone completely full circle and I’m back where I started. What style am I going to go for? I think they will definitely be more grown up but I’m hoping they will still be interesting. My boss sent me an email the other day about a new Mencia we’ve brought in from Ribera Sacra. He said: ‘A sort of mid-way point between Pinot Noir and Syrah, but with high acidity’. I thought to myself, if I can combine information like this with a touch of light humour the balance would be perfect. So wish me luck.

The reality is descriptions can work but let’s make them count, and try to engage and relate to the customer. If we don’t that really would be a waste of ink.

WOTM: Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020

Our June Wine of the Month is a new addition to our portfolio, and one that screams summer – Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020! From Kefalonia, an island off the west coast of Greece, and made from the island’s most well-know indigenous variety, the grapes for this cuvée come from 20 year old vines that are ungrafted and grown on their own indigenous roots in a vineyard in Fragata, on the free-draining slopes of Mount Ainos.

In a nutshell

An incredibly fresh and pure wine that is full of tension. The herbal and citrus aromas create a harmonious fusion through to a palate with lime citrus intensity and mouth-watering freshness.

The producer

The Foivos winery evolved from the historic Mantzavino winery, one of the oldest in Greece. The winery was bought in 1996, and in 1999 Theodorous Orkopoulos produced his first vintages. The winery specialises in rare Greek varieties as well as the better known Robola.

The grapes are farmed organically and biodynamically, and Foivos also explores alternative winemaking practices such as fermentation in Amphora and ageing under water. This winery is making some excellent terroir-driven wines that rank among some of Greece’s finest. Many people believe Kefalonia to be the next Santorini: watch this space!

The wine

The grapes were carefully selected and sorted in the cellar, destemmed and gently pressed. The must was fermented with wild, indigenous yeasts at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks to retain the purity of fruit and aromatic integrity. The wine was gently filtered prior to bottling. Made in an unoaked style to fully express the character of the Robola variety and the mountainous terroir of Mount Ainos.

The Challenge of Winemaking

Vines love a challenge…

If vines were human beings they’d be into extreme sports, wakeboarding on the surf or abseiling down skyscrapers.

You see, give your average vine some nice cosy conditions – great weather, lots of luscious deep juicy soil – and they’ll give you lots of, well, average fruit. All quite worthy, if a bit dull. Then they’ll go down the pub. But give them a challenge; soils which are so barren and rocky that every sensible plant has given up the ghost, or a mountainside so steep that you’re in danger of falling off – and they’re in their element. Bring it on!

Which is just as well. Because every vintage has a story. Every vineyard is on trial.

Only a few weeks ago Bordeaux was hit by one of the worst frosts in decades. Hundreds of hectares were damaged. But while Estelle Roumage, owner of Chateau Lestrille, gazed at the devastation and shed a silent tear, her vines stood defiant. Battered and bruised, their buds lost, crippled but indomitable. “Don’t worry; we’ll be back. We’re vines, you see.”

Mount Etna erupted seventeen times between mid-February and the end of March this year. Imagine waking up and not knowing if your vines have been covered in ash. (Or whether your house is about to be consumed by lava!) Yet that is what our winemakers at Santa Maria La Nave and Al-Cantara face. We – and they – feel those slings and arrows are worth putting up with because of the fabulous complexity of wine which those vines produce.

Chablis lies at the extreme of the great winemaking areas. Philippe Goulley, winemaker at Domaine Jean Goulley, summarised the last vintage for us and included a weather report: “We had spring frost and hailstorms but they weren’t as significant as recent years. Then we had drought and a heat wave in June and July which totally changed the situation. In the end, the quantity was okay but not as good as we’d hoped.” This stoical acceptance of fate happens every year: Chablis suffered tough vintages in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Such is the lot of the winemaker – and the vine.

Weather can be capricious. California is often prey to forest fires – which can destroy vineyards or cause smoke taint. In 2020 the state recorded the hottest August and September on record, during which time thousands of vines were destroyed. We can only salute the fortitude of our winemakers at Far Niente, Raymond Vineyards, Lockwood Vineyard, Oak Ridge Winery and Quady, as well as our newest addition – Sanford.

Australian winemakers face another hazard: drought. They have always had to contend with agricultural risks such as frost, hail and flood. But climate change has made things tougher for growers and winemakers. Wineries rely on natural rainfall for their grapes, but in drought season, irrigation is a must. The amount of water being drawn for the river systems and the underground aquifers may be unattainable in a hotter drier climate. (And that’s before China pulls the plug on Aussie exports!) We’re grateful for wineries such as Berton Vineyards for continuing to produce amazing wines and amazing value-for-money wines in the face of such adversity.

Of course, just as most people prefer the easy life, some people – like vines – love a challenge. Operating out of often impenetrable and inaccessible vineyards within Galicia, winemaker Xosé Lois Sebio has produced a stunning collection of wines as a result of a personal quest: to find wines with unique personality from more risky processing zones and with a very marked identity. He is no respecter of fashions and conventions. His main challenge is to respect and express the soil, variety and area – producing wines with soul and personality.

A different sort of challenge is faced by the winemaking team at Frescobaldi. How to live up the expectations of a Florentine family with thirty generations dedicated to the production of great wines across six Tuscan estates? Well, you do it with a combination of tradition and innovation. With the goal of being the most prestigious Tuscan wine producer, and with over 1,000 hectares of vineyard, Frescobaldi firmly believes in respecting the local land while focusing on the highest quality grapes for its wines. This means different winemakers for each estate, each forging the terroir’s identity, while all living up the quality standards demanded by Lamberto Frescobaldi, chief winemaker. Gambero Rosso awarded Frescobaldi with the prestigious ‘Tre Bicchieri Winery of the Year Award 2020’, in recognition of its uncompromising commitment. Here is one family living up to the challenge!

How to reinvent something? That’s a challenge. For Badiola, a change from a quality hierarchy based on terroir rather than on ageing was a paradigm made possible by the change to the Rioja classifications of 2018. They set out to make wines of place rather than wines of style. The Vino de Pueblo wines are sourced from 300 plots in three villages in the foothills of Sierra de Cantabria in the Rio Alavesa from vines with an average age of around 50 years (many were planted in the 1920s, 30s and 40s). A challenging concept, but thankfully the wines are brilliant.

And then of course there are some winemakers for whom one challenge is not enough. They want to be challenged every day. Take Gérard Bertrand. It would have been easy for him to have rested on his laurels when inheriting his father’s domaine in Corbières. But the drive which saw him play rugby at the highest level saw him purchasing numerous estates, then upgrading them painstakingly. This was followed by his conversion to biodynamic farming, following the principals of Rudolf Steiner.

Now, he presides over some of the most prestigious crus of Languedoc-Roussillon. Formerly the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and Wine Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year, his expertise ensures that wines bearing Gérard Bertrand’s signature have a unique style, driven by the values of excellence, authenticity, conviviality and innovation. In 2020, Gérard Bertrand was awarded Green Personality of the Year, by the Drinks Business Green Awards. He is arguably the most dynamic winemaker on the planet. Now there’s a chap who loves a challenge.

WOTM: Lake Chalice ‘The Raptor’, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2018

When you think of Sauvignon Blanc, which region springs to mind first? We, and we are sure a lot of consumers, automatically go to Marlborough. To celebrate this grape variety, we have picked a quintessential Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Lake Chalice ‘The Raptor’ 2018 – as our May Wine of the Month to coincide with 07th May or, International Sauvignon Blanc Day.

One of the world’s most popular grape varieties, and one of the most widely-planted, Sauvignon Blanc is recognised worldwide for its fresh and aromatic qualities.

The grapes for this wine were sourced from a single vineyard in the rich loamy soils of the Dillons Point area of Marlborough’s Lower Wairau Valley. Shaped by a slow convergence of tectonic plates, the Wairau Valley offers a veritable patchwork of contrasting soil types linking the Alps in the west with the Pacific Ocean in the east.

In a nutshell:

Ripe grapefruit and lime aromas are neatly framed by notes of blackcurrant leaf followed by a textured palate bursting with sweet passionfruit and ripe pear with a hint of white pepper on the finish.

The producer:

Lake Chalice was established in 1989 with a vision of producing internationally recognised wines from the heart of the Marlborough region. New Zealand’s native falcon, the ‘Kārearea’, is proudly displayed on every bottle of Lake Chalice wine. Kārearea favour the remote mountains and foothills of the upper Awatere and Wairau valleys and these valleys are home to Lake Chalice’s three unique vineyard sites. Each vineyard has a diverse microclimate, biodiversity and terroir which are seamlessly translated into multi award winning wines by talented winemaker Chloe Gabrielsen. Taking a boutique approach she handcrafts parcels of fruit from single vineyards into elegant, aromatic, fruit driven wines and has garnered a global reputation of outstanding quality. Certified ‘Sustainable Winegrower of New Zealand’

The wine:

The grapes were harvested in the cool of the evening to retain the freshness and quickly pressed off the skins to ensure minimal skin-contact time. The juice was settled and cool fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with carefully selected yeasts to encourage maximum thiol characters. Thiols are the compounds naturally found on the Sauvignon Blanc grapes which are responsible for Marlborough’s signature tropical notes.

How have Wine Merchants adapted to COVID?

A lot has happened since the first lockdown was announced on 23rd March and as this is being written, we are about to enter a second national lockdown on November 5th. It has taken a good degree of ingenuity and resourcefulness to navigate the different tiers and rules associated with these for a consumer, yet alone a business owner, and it will continue to pose challenges for operators throughout the country.

Whilst our On Trade cousins have been incredibly unfortunate not to be fully open for business for several months, Off Trade wine outlets have been permitted to carry on operating. We are truly grateful for the support of all our customers in these uncertain times, and in tune with this special edition of Assemblage, we wanted to highlight a few of those customers and how they have managed to thrive in the face of adversity over this year.

 

Loki Wines

Despite being able to open their premises when the Prime Minister said wine shops were on the permitted list, owner, Phil Innes, decided to keep the Loki Wines shops closed until 4th July to focus on their online offering. At the beginning of the year he had already put the wheels in motion to make his online sales a key part of Loki’s strategic plans, so he was well placed to capitalise on the situation; but its success has been phenomenal and what Phil described as an ‘insignificant’ part of their business now represents 30% of his sales. Central to this success was the ability to adapt to, and market online tastings via social media.

By pairing up with a local deli, Phil has been able to provide a wine with food tasting, often featuring winemakers as an added dimension. Free same day delivery for the produce being tasted is offered in the local Birmingham area, and next day via courier for those living further afield. The tastings have been a roaring success and they have regularly sold between 200-300 tickets for each session to participants all over Europe – even as far away as Canada!

Business has been brisk and never one to stand still, Phil is close to opening his third site, saying:  “Although online has become a really important part of the business, I still believe that the core business in the future will be in the bricks and mortar. This is because what sets us apart from online is our ability to hand-sell every bottle to the customer, and give them an experience in a store that starts the journey to enjoying the wine”

 

Wine Down

Wine Down in the Isle of Man was faced with closing their premises for On trade sales and the prospect of losing a significant amount of turnover, so owner, Anne Harrison, lost no time in emailing a daily changing menu and wine offering to her extensive database for delivery the next day; it became a vital part of her income during those initial few months. So much so that she was able to retain all kitchen staff and floor crew for taking, preparing and packing the orders for delivery with her husband and son – who was an enforced return from university – in support, to undertake the deliveries.

Emboldened by the success of the Off Trade wine sales and in preparation for re-opening, she grabbed the opportunity take over the next door premises, and create a dedicated shop and bar area. It would be easy to suggest that it is business as usual on the Isle of Man because they have no cases of COVID, but as business and leisure visitors are not permitted, and events like the TT races were cancelled, footfall is significantly down which has had an impact, so they need to be as rigorous as ever in their pursuit of a great wine offering and service for their residents to maintain their position as the best wine retailer on the island.

 

Love Cheese

As the name would suggest Love Cheese is first and foremost a cheese shop, but their wine sales have trebled since the pandemic. Whilst they have stayed open throughout, Harry Baines explained that they were forced to reduce their opening hours in order to cope with the increase in deliveries. Love Cheese is another example of an operator rapidly adapting to the online tasting platform; they decided to advertise their cheese and wine tastings via Facebook in order to gain traction quickly.

Their customers would receive a box of 5 wines – decanted into smaller format bottles – and five cheeses, sufficient for two people. They began by offering weekly tastings, selling 46 boxes for the first one and 150 boxes for the second – given the labour intensive nature of the preparation, it prompted them to conduct the tastings once a fortnight instead. They sold 285 boxes for the latest tasting in November, so there are no signs that the interest is subsiding, and Harry believes this is a direct result of “people looking for distraction and entertainment”. On the back of the confidence he has built with his customer base, the café which was always attached to the shop has morphed into a wine bar which was beginning to do well ahead of the second lockdown. He is convinced this new look bar will do well once again, as customers crave a return to social interaction and a normal life.

 

This is not an exhaustive list and there are too many examples to mention everyone, but we trust these real-life scenarios can bring a ray of light, a glimmer of hope and the prospect of better days for all of us!

Has COVID-19 caused lasting damage to the Restaurant Sector and will it ever truly recover?

The short answer is yes, it will recover, and it will do so in a way that will bring pride to the entire nation. This might seem a little unwarranted, but I do need to point out at this early stage that I am an eternal optimist. What makes me so confident, put simply: I believe in the people involved. Our industry is built around the people that work within it; whether it be the visionary owners, the tireless managers or the charismatic front of house team that make our frequent visits so memorable. It’s the People that give me Hope.

I am writing this article a couple of days after the second lockdown to our industry was announced. Like thousands of operators around the country this came as a crushing blow. I woke up the following Monday morning, took the kids to school and my journey home took me past the large stainless steel vats of the Wiston winery on the A24. Let’s just say that the wines are far better than the location! For some reason I made a quick decision to pull off and see if the head winemaker, and my good friend, Dermot Sugrue was around. Not only is Dermot one of the country’s leading winemakers, he’s also a force of nature. Spending time with him is like getting a shot of adrenaline, and it just so turns out that on this morning he was just the tonic I needed.

Over the next 30 minutes he danced around the various vats and barrels extracting base samples from a tap or, in some cases, a large syringe. He was not worried about our current plight, he was excited about the eventual bounce back and what the customers would make of his new vintage – ‘The Trouble with Dreams’ 2015. For the time I was with him I completely forgot about COVID. It was a brilliant impromptu Monday morning and without me sounding too corny, my wee Irish friend gave me hope.

I then got home and started to think about our industry and what else should give us optimism for the future. One important fact to remember is there are huge swathes of the population who can’t cook restaurant quality food at home (and long may this continue)! Restaurants, when allowed to open, will always be busy because guests crave that unique experience, don’t they?

Another reason for optimism is seeing how the trade has adapted during the pandemic. During the first lockdown some of our customers turned their restaurants into wine shops and started peddling wine across their local community. We have one such customer from Winchester who ended up doing up to 20 deliveries a day out of the back of his estate car. Absolute madness, but utterly inspiring!

The ‘finish at home’ concept was also born, which enabled customers to create restaurant quality dishes in the comfort of their own kitchen. Even Michelin starred chefs such Michael O’Hare got in on the act – I am sure that some menus were easier to finish than others! Sunday Roasts also got the delivery treatment. I mean, come on, what is wrong with people…? They must really hate doing the washing up.

Zoom was also being beamed straight into customers’ homes in the form of online tastings and live cookery classes. The ability to diversify was inspiring, but was any of it profitable? Absolutely not, but it really wasn’t about that. The aim was to keep their brands alive and stay within the head space of their customer base.

Seeing this unfold gave me immense hope, so when the trade reopened on the 4th July I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. And the bounce back didn’t disappoint – it was huge. Central London aside, the population of this country turned up in their droves to support their local pubs and restaurants. I think we were all proud to be a part of our fantastic industry.

Then the tier system crept in and literally took the wind out of people’s sales! Tier 2: welcome to no man’s land – you’re open but who’s coming in? You’re hoping for a Valentine’s Day style service every night of the week and then good old family time at weekends. It’s just never going to happen, so maybe the second lockdown, with furlough support, is the lesser of two evils?

How much more can the hospitality industry take and has permanent damage been caused? You have to say for those unfortunate operators that haven’t survived, absolutely, but for those who have it’s probably made them stronger. Operators have had to really look at every facet of their business and how different aspects can be streamlined, therefore making them more efficient. Longevity has to be the common goal.

One thing is for sure. When this has all been put to bed, the hospitality industry will enter a boom period like no other. A period that is prolonged steady growth, rather than the boom and bust cycle we often see. In my opinion this industry is just too dynamic to be held down. The general public’s love affair with the restaurant sector appears to have been galvanised, which I hope will continue for a long time to come.

Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder

– Joe Wadhams,
Business Development Director

WOTM: Zorzal ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, Malbec 2017

Which wine from our portfolio would tie in perfectly to both Malbec World Day, on 17th April, and Easter at the start of the April? Zorzal ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, Malbec 2017 – our Wine of the Month for April, of course!

Follow an in-depth look into the subject of Minerality in 2020, Jane Macquitty described this wine in The Times as: “tart, zingy, inky-black fruit” and “the most full-on” mineral red she had ever tasted.

In a nutshell:

Edgy, mineral and layered, this intensely flavoured wine is marked by flavours of wild herbs and cloves against a background of smoky blackberries.

The producer: 

Zorzal is an Argentinian boutique winery which has been dedicated to the production of high quality wines since 2008 and is located at the highest point of the Uco Valley. Hailed as one of the most exclusive and well-regarded areas for viticulture in Argentina, the terroir is revealed in the Zorzal wines through a respectful, non invasive winemaking process that puts austerity before exuberance and fruit before wood. The wines have rapidly gained international recognition. Founded by the Michelini brothers, who are outstanding in their passionate leadership in the vineyards and winery, this highly regarded winemaking duo have become renowned as the trendsetters of the Argentinian winemaking scene.

The wine:

The grapes were destemmed. Fermentation took place spontaneously with native yeasts in egg-shaped containers made of cement at around 24°C. The wine remained on its skins for two months, followed by pressing and was then returned to the egg. The egg shape helps to keep the liquid constantly in motion, so the temperature is more consistent and the lees remain in suspension. The resulting wine achieves a greater character and volume on the palate. The wine was aged for 12 months in the same container, with a view to conserving its pure, authentic character, without interference from any other influence such oak from another terroir.

THE 2020 Harvest

Well, it’s definitely going to be a vintage to remember – for lots of reasons!

2020 will go down as the year of COVID, a year when authorities paid winemakers millions to turn their wine into hand sanitiser, a year in which finding grape-pickers was more challenging than ever before – and a year when we all had to find different ways of working. And – in some regions at least – it was a year of potentially excellent wines.

Europe’s 2020 wine harvest was underway relatively early following a warm growing season, but in many areas it is also taking place against a backdrop of lost sales – largely due to the economic impact of COVID lockdowns.

The rise and rise of English wine continues apace, helped and hindered by COVID, but for Dermot Sugrue, the “biggest challenge I had was finding pickers. All the big boys (Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down etc.) hoovered up all the professional pickers so I was struggling to find enough to pick the Pinots from Mount Harry Vineyard near Lewes, which makes up most of the Sugrue South Downs blend.” However, after he put the call out he got a “terrific response” from Hallgarten staff, who descended on the vineyard to help. “Oh, and it’s going to be a brilliant year with simply exceptional fruit!”

On the other side of the world, a country which fared better than most against the Coronavirus was New Zealand, where wineries were able to complete the grape harvest as “essential businesses.” The total harvest of 457,000 tonnes reflected the near perfect growing conditions. Julie Ibbotson of Saint Clair said: “This vintage was certainly like no other, with the implementation of various stringent guidelines, procedures and protocols, with strict rules surrounding both transport to and from the winery and accommodation arrangements. Social distancing quickly became the norm. But the quality of fruit from Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay has been exceptional.”

Jaime Quendera, winemaker at the top-notch Pegoes Co-Op, near Lisbon, said: We have not had any cases fortunately. We have been working normally, but within the so-called “new normal”: we divided the wine cellar in two, with different shifts and times, with a disinfection between shifts. Our great fear was in the vineyard, but we implemented the same “mirror” plan, prolonged the grape reception for four hours longer, and managed to get everything in. We expect fresh and fruity whites, and very good, ripe and elegant reds. It could be a very good year.”

Meanwhile, over in Tuscany, Antonio Zaccheo, owner of Carpineto, said: “Quantities are a bit lower than average yet the quality is very good with some peaks of real excellence. As for Corona, our activity is outdoors and on a farm, so we’ve been able to follow the paces of Mother Nature without problems. On the sales side, it is another story. All the On premise sales were drastically disrupted and the outlook is definitely cautious.”

Commercially, South Africa had a tough year. Rob McKinlay of the Swartland winery said: “It has not been easy. Interruption to export for six weeks, then local bans on alcohol.  At the winery all the internal protocols had to be renewed in line with the safety of our workers, especially on the production line. And as for cash flow, nightmare, but all the staff have been paid on time and no one working at Swartland will go hungry because of this epidemic.”

Commenting on the harvest, Jean Naude of Groot Constantia said: “Our harvest was nearly completed when the hard lockdown was initiated by our Government. We are also very fortunate that not one of our employees as yet have tested positive for the virus. 2020 produced a big crop, where most varieties exceeded our expectations, notably Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz.”

In France, which expected a harvest at around the 45m-hectolitre mark – roughly in-line with the five-year average – the Government gave €250m to aid the wine sector.

Philippe Goulley, of Domaine Jean Goulley in Chablis, said: “Commercially, it was very hard from mid-March to the end of April. In addition, there were many constraints in the cellar – but Chablis is a very small city so we were able to cope. And the vintage: in my opinion it’s one of the very best vintage of the last 30 years.”

That was echoed by Fabrice Brunel, of Domaine André Brunel in Chateauneuf du Pape. “It will be a great vintage in terms of quality and volume. It should be on par with 2019 in terms of complexity, colour and concentration. We didn’t decrease the investment due to COVID. We lost sales in the on premise, but gained in shops.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the mercurial Andy Quady tells us: “Fortunately we have not lost anyone to that sickness yet but some of our workers had to be quarantined and tested when someone had contact with a person who tested positive. We had a COVID task force which includes: working at home for all office workers; mandatory mask for employees and visitors; mandatory daily temperature checks for employees and visitors; daily sanitizing of work areas; zero company travel except to support winemaking visits to vineyards. But at the same time, we are having a great sales year; we are trying our best to work round this.”

In Spain, two of our suppliers are very optimistic about the vintage. In Navarra, Jose Maria Fraile of Tandem said: “Thanks to our export markets, we are all fine and swimming hard. We started the 2020 harvest on September 16, as usual later than the rest of the region due to our cool Atlantic influence Continental microclimate in any case one week ahead of last year. We can inform you the wines are looking great. The aromas at the winery are sublime.”

In Rias Baixas Inma Pazos of Xose Lois Sebio, tells us: “2020 was a strange year for everyone. We are all concerned how life is changing after this. But Nature is stronger than we think and it will adapt to the new situation. In our winery we had to adapt our methods and as wise people know: in the worst crises come the best opportunities. COVID taught us to a better organization to keep our staff safe and this resulted in a optimize harvest after all: 150.000 kg collected – one of the biggest in my life. The white grapes are very healthy – and the reds are going to be awesome!”

Nature is stronger than we think and we will adapt. Wise words.

In Australia, 2020 was a challenging vintage with wine grape losses due to smoke or fire damage reported in 25% of Australia’s wine regions, but the overall loss was less than 3% of the harvest.

As Matt Herde from Tahbilk informed us in January: “It has been a very tough season in the vineyards right around Australia. It has been very hot, very dry and very windy; we anticipated crops being lower than average, but that is the fickle nature of agriculture in Australia. Rainfall has been below average with the Tahbilk vineyard team kept busy with extra irrigation management; however, overall the vineyards look in excellent condition and we still anticipate a good vintage.”

This was concurred by White Winemaker at Berton Vineyards, Glen Snaidero, who tells us: “What a year full of challenges! Despite having to face a season of drought, bushfires, threat of COVID 19 and multiple rain events in the middle of harvest, remarkably 2020 will be another good vintage in terms of quality for Berton Vineyards. Lower alcohols will be found in some varietals, particularly blends of Semillon, a result of late season rains in February and March but the clean fresh fruit flavours have not been affected.”

In Argentina, Dona Paula’s award winning viticulturist Martin Kaiser said: “The 2020 vintage will be remembered as a special harvest for many factors: It was the warmest vintage of this century, together with the 2009 vintage. And the relatively heavy rainfall fell in a few intense episodes, so dry days predominated, with low relative humidity. These conditions favoured a fast accumulation of sugar in the grapes, so that the harvest was ahead one week in average for the white grapes, and between two to four weeks for the reds. This rapid accumulation of sugars made us fear for the evolution of the polyphenols (tannins). But the good news is that we managed to achieve an optimal polyphenolic maturity, so the wines are of outstanding quality.

Meanwhile, in Chile, Santiago Colvin Izquierdo of Ventolera, told us that “COVID didn’t affect the harvest, because we finished before our authorities took measures. After the harvest we took all the measures in the warehouse to avoid any problem and to take care of the health of our employees. And the vintage looks great.”

International Women’s Day 2021

This week we are celebrating the amazing women that make Hallgarten what it is today. We are proud to represent some of the best female winemakers in the world, and we truly believe that the wines crafted by these talented women – from Japan and South Africa to Italy and France – are some of the very best in the Hallgarten portfolio.
Sonia Spadaro, owner and winemaker at Santa Maria La Nave, Sicily.

Born in Augusta, on the Ionian coast of Sicily, Sonia grew up in the orange groves of Lentini, watching Mount Etna erupt. Sonia discovered the world of wine by chance and decided to start tending to the family vines and work in the cellar on the vinification processes. After graduating in economics, with plans to become an archaeologist, she trained as a sommelier and then completely devoted her life to wine and after a few years working in vineyards on Sicily, became the owner at Santa Maria La Nave.

Santa Maria la Nave is a small boutique winey on Mount Etna, specialising in wines from ancient, rare indigenous varieties. Their two vineyards were the first is on the northwest side of Mount Etna – the highest active volcano in Europe and a Unesco World Heritage site –  located at 1,100 metres above sea level, and are among the highest and most extreme vineyards on the continent.

Valeria Antolin, winemaker at Piattelli Vineyards, Argentina.

It is hardly a surprise that Valeria Antolin became a winemaker. Her father was a famous sparkling winemaker in Mendoza and she followed in his footsteps, taking a degree in Agronomy from Universidad Nacional de Cuyo before working her way up at Piattelli. She has been with the estate since it was founded in 2002 and is now the principle winemaker at its Mendoza and Cafayate (in the Salta Province) wineries.

In the words of Valeria:

“Winemaking is our expert craft and rooted deeply within my heritage. My father was a well known Winemaker, as was my Uncle & Grandfather. There has always been a bottle of wine on the family table. Today that bottle is Piattelli. ”

Chloe Gabrielsen, winemaker at Lake Chalice Wines, New Zealand. 

Raised in Turangi on the shores of the mighty Lake Taupo, Chloe’s early exposure to viticulture began with helping her parents pick out wine from the local store (they were fiends for a big Aussie red). After finishing College in 2001, Chloe moved to Marlborough to pursue a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology degree through Lincoln University, completing her first harvest at the Saint Clair Family Estate in 2006.

Now more than ten vintages later, Chloe is the winemaker at Lake Chalice, producing the very best results for this superb winery… that is, when she’s not being a Mum to Asher, member of multiple sports teams, performing in Kapa Haka (Māori performing arts), being a cross-fit addict or cooking a mean kai (kiwi food)!

Estelle Roumage, owner and winemaker at Chateau Lestrille, France.

Estelle Roumage embodies this outstanding family domaine in Entre-deux-Mers, close to Saint-Émilion, a region Estelle describes as the Tuscany of Bordeaux; hilly, with beautiful biodiversity, groves, rivers and different cultures.

After graduating from Hull University in the 1990s and spending time in London, Estelle spent four years in Madrid, then to Marlborough, New Zealand to learn more about winemaking. She then returned to Entre-Deux-Mers to the family farm, and has been making wine and running the estate ever since!

Her wines are delicate and precise and consistently punch above their appellation. She manages to blend respect for tradition with a modern outlook to vine management and winemaking techniques. On top of this Estelle has a real passion and talent for bringing her wines to our customers to share, to taste, to learn, to engage, in a way that really ignites their taste buds.

Samantha O’Keefe, owner and winemaker at Lismore, South Africa.

Californian Samantha O’Keefe has found paradise and the perfect terroir. Tucked into the foothills of the Riviersonderend, a dramatic mountain range at the bottom of Africa, Lismore Estate Vineyards was born alongside Sam’s nascent family. A passionate vision, combined with vines planted at 300 metres, which are chilled by winter snow and nourished by the African summer sun, produces classic, cool climate wines which are rich, complex and lovingly hand-crafted.

In December 2019, Sam suffered an awful bushfire at her winery. Thankfully, she was safe, and thanks partly to donations from around the world, fund-raising events in major wine centres, the generosity of her fellow growers who supplied her with grapes (including some from the unbelievably-named Corona Vineyard), but mostly due to her own indomitable spirit, she immediately set about rebuilding her business and we are very excited to taste her latest wines.

Elizma Visser, winemaker at Olifantsberg, South Africa.

Elizma joined the Olifantsberg team in 2015 following extensive winemaking experience; studying Oenology and Viticulture in Stellenbosch and working in France and Italy, before returning home to South Africa.

Her time making wine in Europe proved to be an excellent springboard to go on and start creating elegant Rhône style wines of her own.

Elizma certainly has her work cut out, looking after all areas of the management of the vineyards and winery at Olifantsberg. In the vineyards, Elizma’s focus is on taking care of the soils and maintaining the quality and sustainability of the vines. Whereas her focus in the winery, is to get the best expression of the fruit using a variety of techniques.

Özge Kaymaz Özkan, winemaker at Kayra, Turkey.

One of the winemakers of Kayra is Özge Kaymaz Özkan, a talented woman who has been with the company for over 15 years. Being from a family who used to work for Tekel, Turkey’s state monopoly in spirits, she was practically born and raised in the industry.

Kayra produces premium wines from the Anatolia region -considered to be the birthplace of wine- and is at the cutting edge of winemaking. The wines are made from unique local varieties as well as international ones. These ancient indigenous varieties are being vinified using modern techniques and are producing award-winning results.

WOTM: Johann Donabaum, Spitzer Federspiel, Wachau, Riesling 2019

International Riesling Day is just around the corner (13th March), so we wanted to celebrate with a Riesling from the sandy soils of Wachau – Johann Donabaum, Spitzer Federspiel, Wachau, Riesling 2019.  Riesling is one of the most versatile grapes growing and shows a variety of difference characteristics depending on where in the world it is being grown.

Johann cultivates 7.5 hectares of vineyard, split between Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. For him, terroir is absolutely crucial. His knowledge of his vineyards is extremely detailed and this means he is able to cultivate the vineyards with exceptional care and attention. Understanding all the nuances of the different plots means they can be given individual attention and this enables Johann to truly express the terroir of his vineyards in the resulting wines.

In a nutshell:

An enchanting wine delivering distinctive aromas of peach and apricot. Crisp, with pure varietal character echoed on the palate, this refreshing wine has an excellent structure and a lively finish. Lovely Riesling expression.

The producer:

In 1961, Johann Donabaum’s parents decided to give up mixed agriculture and specialise exclusively on viticulture instead. Although it may have been perceived as a risk at the time, this turned out to be an inspired choice.

Viticulture and winemaking has been a constant throughout the majority of Johann Donabaum’s life. Growing up surrounded by family vineyards, he graduated from Krems School of Viticulture whilst still a teenager. Following his time studying, Johann completed a seven month apprenticeship with F X Pichler. This valuable experience gained him a great deal of new ideas and insight into the practices of a great wine producer, preparing him for his own successful winemaking career.

The wine:

The grapes come from the Spitz vineyard in Western Wachau. The vines are grown on steep hillside terraces which make up several vineyards in the Spitzer Graben. The vines are planted with a south western orientation. Cooling breezes help to keep the climate temperate. The soils are very sandy and have high heat retention properties. The soil’s composition is the result of weathering of the local rocks and it is dominated by pegmatite and calc-silicate gneisses, which have low water retention and help to impart structure to the resulting wine.