Domaine de Fa, Beaujolais with a northern Rhône twist

Back in 2013 the northern Rhône based Graillot family bought 5 hectares in Beaujolais – a vineyard called En Besset, just at the southern tip of the crus near Saint Amour and Julienas. [They also got their hands on parcels of vines in Fleurie and Saint Amour.] Their farming is organic (certified), and this wine gets the classic whole cluster, semi-carbonic maceration, with ageing in cement tanks and foudres. It’s really impressive.

Domaine de Fa Beaujolais En Besset 2016 France
12% alcohol. This is from Antoine and Maxime Graillot’s venture in Beaujolais, and it’s really impressive. Fresh and compact with sweet cherries, some plums and damson, and a bit of blackcurrant richness, with some tannic bite on the finish. It’s really drinkable, but has some brooding meat and iron savoury depth, together with fresh acidity and a sense of brightness. A beautiful fusion of the sweet and savoury, showing astonishing digestibility and drinkability: this is what we come to Beaujolais for. 93/100

(Purchased from the excellent Metrovino in Calgary.)

The wines of David Duband, Burgundy

David Duband

I met with David Duband over dinner at Noble Rot. He’s imported into the UK by Keeling Andrews, the agency arm with the same ownership as the restaurant. David is calm and measured, and there was a good energy to the evening as we tasted through wines and chatted.

David’s father, Pierre Duband, began as a winegrower in the Hautes Côtes, some 9 km from Nuits-St-George, in the 1960s. He started with nothing, and began planting vineyards in this rather unfashionable area. After five years he got the chance to rent some vines in Nuits-St-George, which he farmed. But for 35 years he just sold grapes.

Then, in 1991, at breakfast, he asked the 19-year-old David whether he wanted to make wine. David had finished his studied six months earlier and was in the process of doing a year’s mandatory military service. His father introduced him to François Feuillet, who had just bought a parcel in the premier cru Aux Thorey vineyard, and Feuillet asked David to work the vines and make the wines in a metayage arrangement. This is a form of share cropping, where David did the work, then gave half the wine to Feuillet, and it used to be common in Burgundy. David got permission to leave military service for the harvest in September 1991, and made 20 barrels of wine. He repeated this in 1992.

The arrangement suited both parties, and Feuillet bought more vineyards. His father retired in 1994 and David took over. He stopped using herbicides in 1999, and in 2006 converted to organics (Biogro certified). ‘Everything was very difficult with my father,’ he says. ‘When you sell the grapes you don’t want to do the work in the vineyard.’

David also buys grapes. ‘When I buy grapes, I sometimes do organic treatments, and I do the harvest,’ he says. He says it is also easy to buy organic grapes now, because lots of people are farming this way. 13-14% of Burgundy is now farmed organically, and a further 18-20% is farmed without herbicides. He thinks it’s important to be organic. ‘It is necessary. It is possible [to farm organically] for 99.9% of the vintages. We cant continue with the chemicals.’

Feuillet continued to buy more vineyards, and gave them to David to work, with the same metayage arrangement. A big step forward for Duband was when Feuillet bought the domaine of Jacky Truchot, who was retiring. This consisted of 7 hectares of vines that were mostly Grand and Premier crus.

David Duband’s winemaking style has changed. ‘The 1990s was the time of the new vinification,’ he says. People destemmed and did long cold soaks to make deeper-coloured wines. But in 2006 David tried some whole cluster, and stopped the cold soak. He liked the results. ‘I tasted lots of old wines from great producers, and then I tasted my wines: they were monolithic. So I started using stems.’ Now he’s using 50-60% stems for the village wines, 75% for the premier crus, and 90% for the grand crus. ‘The maturity of the stems is not important,’ he says. ‘It is when you cut the stems you extract bitterness, so we do pigeage by foot.’ His wines see about 30% new oak.

He also commented on the most recent vintage. ‘2018 was a special vintage in the Côtes de Nuits,’ he says. ‘It was a very warm vintage, and some people started picking on the 11th September. It takes at least 9 days to do the harvest and some wines came in at 15% potential alcohol.’

THE WINES

David Duband Vosne Romanée 2016 Burgundy, France
There’s a slight chocolatey, spicy edge to the nose. Shows lovely structure under the sweet cherry and plum fruit. Tight wound with nice structure and some richness, with grainy detail. 93/100

David Duband Gevrey Chambertin 2017 Burgundy, France (cask sample)
Sweet seductive black fruits here, with some cherry richness. Supple with sweet, pure fruit. Generous and fine grained with some grip and nice acid and tannin. Has potential. 93-94/100

David Duband Gevrey Chambertin 2012 Burgundy, France
This wine has a lovely tension, with fresh red cherry fruit and a hint of undergrowth. Nice sappy green hints with some earth and mineral notes, as well as good structure. 94/100

David Duband Morey St Denis 2009 Burgundy, France
Black cherry and spice on the nose. Vivid and dense with some grip and focus. Sweet and grippy with herbs and mineral and some liquorice. Very fine. 94/100

David Duband Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers 2017 Burgundy, France (cask sample)
Some roast coffee and spice on the nose with black cherries, herbs and some sweet fruit, but also good structure. Nice weight with lots of potential. 93-95/100

David Duband Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Proces 2014 Burgundy, France
Very smooth and spice with a meaty edge to the nose. The palate is vivid and structured with black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Dense and structural, and quite lovely. Massive potential: Grand Cru quality. 95/100

David Duband Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Combottes 2014 Burgundy, France
This is fine and fleshy, yet structured. Shows sweet cherry, plum and raspberry fruit. Fresh and structured with nice grip and focus, but also with flesh and some succulent red fruit character. 95/100

David Duband Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2017 Burgundy, France (cask sample)
Elegant and sweetly perfumed black cherry nose. The palate is sweetly fruited and polished, with concentrated black fruits to the fore. Grainy and mouthfilling with lovely sweet fruit. 94-96/100

David Duband Charmed Chambertin Grand Cru 2008 Burgundy, France
Complex, aromatic, spicy nose showing raspberries, red cherries, herbs, spice and pepper. Concentrated, bright and textural in the mouth with fine red and black fruits and a juicy, fruity quality. Pure and complex with nice linear fruit and some finesse. 96/100

UK agent Keeling Andrew & Co.

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Central Otago (15) Domaine Thomson

David and PM Hall-Jones are based in Hong Kong, but have two wineries: one in Central Otago, and the other in Gevrey Chambertin. In Central, they planted 14 hectares of Pinot Noir in 2000, and their label is called Domaine Thomson.

The view from the Domaine Thomson vineyard, looking down over Pisa to Lake Dunstan

It’s named after David’s great grandfather, John Turnbull Thomson, who was a surveyor who in the 19th century developed infrastructure projects in the far east, particularly Singapore. He returned to the UK briefly, before heading to New Zealand in 1856, where he was appointed chief surveyor of Otago. Among other things, he named Mount Aspiring and Mount Pisa.

The Moon Block

I visited the vineyard, based in the Pisa subdistrict of the Cromwell Basin, with Claudio Haye (who sells the wines), winemaker Dean Shaw, and vineyard manager Simon Gourley. Farming here is biodynamic, and they have been certified organic by Biogro since 2014.

Cow horns used for making biodynamic preps

A stags bladder for making preps

The vineyard is split into four blocks: the North and South blocks, the Terraces, and then the Moon Block.

Vines, Moon Block

The Moon Block is at the top of a hill, and is quite an exposed site, at an elevation of 295 m, and it tends to make structural wines.

While the Explorer Pinot is released young, the main estate Pinot, called Surveyor Thomson, is currently on the 2014. ‘The owners, David and PM, like releasing their wines with a few years’ bottle age,’ says Claudio, ‘which makes them popular with the restaurant trade. These are wines that tend to show a bit better with time, anyway.’

Simon Gourley and Dean Shaw

Dean Shaw makes the wines, and he explained how he works with this site. ‘The key is how to resolve the tannins, rather than being a fruit bomb,’ he says. ‘The block isn’t allowing us to make fruit bombs: we get structure so we have to meld that structure into the wine. So we are doing a bit of whole bunch, and long-ish ferments with post-ferment maceration. The yeast lees do some fining. Whole bunch keeps the ferment going longer. But we aren’t working the whole bunch because we don’t want that tea bag character.’

The Surveyor Thomson wine is made from 15-20 different ferments. Some are declassified and the rest are blended together. I was really impressed by this wine. There’s also a special release called Rows 1-37, but this is a little backward and brooding at the moment.

Domaine Thomson Explorer Pinot Noir 2017
Supple and fine-grained with nice red fruits, spice and cherries. Has a bit of bite. Juicy and linear with nice grip and fine detail. Nice structure, but not too dense. 93/100

Domaine Thomson Explorer Pinot Noir 2018 (tank sample, just about to be bottled)
Juicy, bright and fresh with lovely red cherry and raspberry fruit, and a nice savoury edge. This has a bit of grip, too. Needs a few months for the fruit to come back up. Nicely focused. 92/100

Domaine Thomson Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2014
This is the current release. A textured wine with lovely red fruits, some silkiness and a bit of raspberry crunch. Has a savoury, grippy undercurrent which integrates nicely into the whole. Some redcurrant character and a bit of tannic grip, showing precision and potential for further development. Subtle sappy notes, too, from 30% whole bunch. 95/100

Domaine Thomson Rows 1-37 Pinot Noir 2014
60-80% whole bunch. This is savoury and crunchy with nice tannins. Shows real grip with detailed red fruits. Nice intensity with good grip and focus. Structural and a bit lean but with great potential for the future. Finishes long and savoury. 94/100

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Nagano region, Japan (14) Domaine Sogga/Obusé Winery

This was my second visit with a winery that I’d classify as Nagano’s best at the moment. Domaine Sogga, also known as Obusé Winery, is based in Obusé and is run by Akihiko Soga (just the one ‘g’ in his name, but two in the domaine’s).

Akihiko is fastidious, talented and experienced. The winery is an old Japanese sake brewery that was founded in 1842. His father become interested in making cider: this area is famous for its apples. But it was his grandfather who had leanings towards wine. In the 1970s he planted vineyards with table grapes, and then later on, in 1996, he planted some Merlot in Takayima village.

Inertys press, which protects the must from oxygen

Akihiko wanted to make wine, and graduated in enology and viticulture from the University of Yamanashi. He then went abroad and did a stage at Long Depaquit before returning to Japan in 1988. Since 2006 he’s been working with organics, and now four of his eight hectares are farmed organically.

We began by looking at some barrels.

Barrel tasting of 2018s

  • Domaine Merlot, vineyard 4
    This is whole berry fermentation, with soft pigeage. Supple, fresh and expressive with elegant berry fruits and some red cherry notes. Very fine. 91-93/100
  • Merlot, vineyard 1
    This parcel has very good drainaged and small berries. Vibrant raspberry and berry fruits nose with good structure and intensity. Direct and vivid. 91-93/100
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
    Ungrafted vines. Very fresh and leafy with nice blackcurrant fruit and firm structure. Nice open berry fruits here with good focus. 90-92/100
  • Tannat 2018
    Grippy, dense and vivid with nice raspberry and blackberry fruit. Lovely presence and weight with good structure. From young vines. 90-92/100
  • Petit Verdot 2018
    Green and fleshy at the same time with lovely red and black fruits. Has nice generosity and also some greenness, as well as firm tannins. 90-92/100
  • Petit Manseng 2018
    Picked at 25 Brix, pH 3.1, 15% alcohol. This is very stylish with concentrated pear and peach fruit and nice texture. Good acidity. 90-92/100
  • Organic Petit Manseng 2018
    Harvested at 27 Brix, ferment stopped early. Sweet pear and apple fruit. Off dry, with nice acidity and a hint of green. 90-92/100

Tasting bottled wines

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Albariño 2018
Picked at 21 Briz, pH 3.2. Lovely aromatics here with some apricot and citrus fruit. Very fine. The palate is dry and fresh with nice bright, focused fruit. Shows high acidity. Very characterful with pretty tangerine and apricot fruit and lemony freshness. 92/100

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Cinq Cepages 2018
This is a co-ferment of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and others. It’s supple, light and fresh with nice fruity notes  with textured peach and pear fruit, a bit of grapiness and some green tea. Very nice combination of flavours here. 90/100

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Cabernet Frank Murasaki Numero Trois 2016
Rounded, elegant sweet red berries and cherry with a hint of strawberry. Supple and bright with a bit of grip. Fine-textured with some generosity but also good structure. Ripe and expressive. 93/100

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Merlot No 4 2016
This is concentrated, fresh and structured with nice purity and elegance. Rounded red cherry and berry fruits with real purity. Very finely structured, this is quite beautiful. There’s power but it is hidden. 94/100

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Merlot and Tannat No 5 2016
Dense with sweet black fruits. A little bit of lift, and firm tannic structure. Supple with some fine green notes and a bright finish. A touch balsamic on the finish. Lots of interest here. 91/100

Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga Petit Manseng Moelleux 2017
Amazing analysis here: it was 25 Brix at 12% potential alchol. Lively and powerful  with high acid and notes of lemons, baked apple and tinned pear. Such a striking wine with high acidity balancing out the sweetness. 92/100

Domaine Cacteaux is farmed and made by Obusé but it’s not from the domaine, so it’s called Sogga Pere et Fils to note that it’s a negociant operation.

Sogga Père et Fils Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Lively and bright with keen citrus fruit and a bit of pith. Has freshness with good acidity. Stony and mineral in a savoury style. 89/100

Sogga Père et Fils Chardonnay Reserve Privee 2017
Nutty, spicy nose with some fine toasty detail. Very fine. The palate is refuned with stylish oak (100% new) that integrates well. Good acidity here. Lemony and precise. 94/100

Sogga Père et Fils Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Fresh leafy nose. Elegant, light, supple palate with juicy cherry and plum fruit. Fresh with nice balance and purity. This is a lovely lighter-style red. 90/100

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Nagano Wine Region (2019)

Nagano Wine Region (2018)

 

Nagano region, Japan (13) Saint Cousair

We arrived at St Cousair just before sunset on a crisp winter’s day. This is a winery with a view, perched on the top of a hill. There’s an interesting story behind it, too. It was established in 1990 in Izuno village, at 630 m altitude.

Ryozo Kuze founded the winery. He was originally from Tokyo, but it was his love of skiing that brought him to Nagano. He often visited as a student and decided he wanted to open a skiing chalet. So, in 1975, Ryozo opened a ski lodge, named Kuze Pension, in Madarao Kōgen, Nagano.

One of his guests, Miyumi, ended up becoming his wife. He married her and they ran the Pension together. But things became difficult in their marriage: she didn’t like the intensity of the lifestyle so she returned to Tokyo with their young child. He was devastated, but she said that if he quit the job of running the chalet she would return to Nagano.

Left with little choice, he quit the chalet, and she came back to Nagano. But they had to find a new job. At that time the apple jam made by Mayumi was incredibly popular, so they began to make jam to sell. They also travelled to Europe, and visited Bordeaux and Normandy, and Burgundy

So Ryozo changed his dream. Instead of running a ski chalet, he wanted to live off the land. He realized that agriculture would only work if they added value by making something from the produce. So, in addition to the jam manufacturing, which was going well, wine suddenly became an attractive option.

Ryozo started growing vines in 1989 and built the winery in 1990. In the early days he was helped by a German consultant, and as a result began growing Riesling, Kerner and Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).

But saddled with large amounts of debt, Ryozo was in trouble when the economy took a turn for the worse. He became very depressed, and it was at this point he became a Christian. This changed his life, and gradually the company worked its way out of trouble. His faith is clearly evident when you visit: there’s a chapel building on site, and also all the bottle labels carry a bible verse on it.

Later, in 1996 they changed their strategy after getting advice from leading winery Mercian, and decided to grow Chardonnay instead of the German varieties. They now have 8 ha of Chardonnay in a vineyard called Ooiri. They also started growing some Pinot Noir in 2007 – they’d pulled the previous plantings out in 1996.

St Cousair Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes 2017 Nagano, Japan
From 30 year old vines, which for vinifera is very rare in Japan. Refined nose with fine spicy notes. Bright citrussy, mineral palate with lemon and pear. Very good acidity and well integrated oak. Stony, bright and appealing. Some pineapple on the finish. 90/100

St Cousair Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes 2018 Nagano, Japan (barrel sample)
Very fresh and vivid with spice and nuts. The spicy oak needs more time to resolve. It’s a little bit reductive now but could be really good. 88-91/100

St Cousair Chardonnay Barrel Fermentation 2003 Nagano, Japan
This is powerful, nutty and has lovely citrus fruit with some appley notes, as well as peachy richness. Mature and savoury, and really delicious. 92/100

St Cousair Rouge 2017 (not released yet)
This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Sappy and bright with nice freshness. It’s Loire-like with redcurrant and cherry notes and nice brightness. Has a trace of green. 88/100

St Cousair Rouge NV Iitsuna, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Blend of 2014 and 2015, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Fresh and lively with some juicy fruit. Nicely expressive with good acidity and raspberry and red cherry notes. Has a bit of grip, but overall it’s pretty elegant and refined. Nice weight. 90/100

Cidre Bramley & Fuji 2017
Off-dry with nice bite, and a sweet apple character, as well as some almond hints. Nice stuff.

Cidre Izuna Apple 2017
Fuji and Kosaka apples. This has quite rich flavour of baked apples but with a hint of sweetness and a nice bitter edge. Very stylish.

Cidre Takubo 2017
Fuji apples, farmed organically, with no sulfites. Tangy and bright with a juicy edge and a nice bitter twist. Some richness here with baked apples and tinned pears. Finishes warm and a bit savoury.

Cidre Izuna Apple Mapore
This is a red-fleshed variety. Juicy and zesty with a sherbert-like quality. Tangy and high acid and a little bitter, with a grapefruit edge.

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Nagano Wine Region (2019)

Nagano Wine Region (2018)

 

Some highlights from the Waitrose press tasting

I’ve just spent two afternoons tasting through the range of Waitrose, a UK-based supermarket. The range is varied and some of the buying is quite brave and imaginative, especially when compared with other supermarkets that have moved strongly in a private label direction. Here are twelve wines that I really liked, in no particular order.

Champagne Vilmart Grand Cellier Premier Cru Brut NV France
12.5% alcohol
£39.99
70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Base wine fermented in large oak. Great to see a good grower Champagne like this on the shelves (36 branches including online). This is very linear with a hint of creaminess and some pear richness, as well as taut citrus notes. Really harmonious. 92/100

Domaine Sainte Amant Beaumes-de-Venise Grangeneuve 2015 Southern Rhône, France
14.5% alcohol
£15.99
Grenache, Syrah, Carignane and Viognier(10%), fermented and matured in large oak, natural ferment. This is serious, with lovely texture and floral cherry and berry fruit. Stylish with a fine-grained structure and real elegance and finesse. 93/100

Cave de Saint-Désirat Saint-Joseph 2017 Northern Rhône, France
13.5% alcohol
£15.99
This is a really lovely, typical example of northern Rhône Syrah, showing fresh, vivid black cherry and blackberry fruit with more than a hint of elegance and some fine peppery notes. 91/100

Bernard Fouquet Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvée Silex 2018 Loire, France
13% alcohol
£11.99
Chenin from 55 year old vines, 11 g/l residual sugar. Powerful and stony with notes of herbs, cheese and hay, as well as lively apple, pear and lemon fruit. Benchmark dry Vouvray. 91/100

Muga Selección Especial Rioja Reserva 2014 Spain
14% alcohol
£24.99
(not pictured) This is classic. Dense and spicy with lovely rich black fruits, as well as supple vanilla and cedar oak notes, showing both elegance and power. A brilliant example of Rioja. 94/100

Zorah Karesi Areni Noir 2016 Armenia
14%
£24.99
Ungrafted Areni Noir planted at 1400 m on limestone-rich soils, aged for 12 months in terracotta amphorae called ‘Karas’. Fine and peppery on the nose with bright red fruits and some floral cherry hints. The palate has lovely definition with a nice peppery edge to the ripe but elegant cherry fruit. Very fine. 94/100

Altos Las Hormigas The Malbec Specialist 2018 Mendoza, Argentina
13.5% alcohol
£13.49
Malbec from Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, aged for 12 months in concrete. Generous yet refined with sweet cherry and plum fruit. Grippy structure to the blackberry fruit with a lovely mouthfeel. Really fine. 92/100

Willi Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2016 Mosel, Germany
7.5% alcohol
£19.99
(not pictured) This is amazing. Ripe, textured and honeyed with lime and peach notes as well as some table grape richness. Nicely textured and beautifully aromatic, showing great balance. 94/100

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2015 Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA
£14% alcohol
£36.49
Fleshy but focused, showing appealing cherry and plum fruit. Expressive, with a silky texture and also nice bright red cherry notes. Quite floral and really bright: a great example of Oregon Pinot. 94/100

Klein Constantia/Pascal Jolivet Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Constantia, South Africa
14% alcohol
£21.99
A lovely wine that’s a result of a collaboration between Klein Constantia and Loire-based Pascal Jolivet. Complex and grassy with nice notes of herbs, lemons, citrus and some passionfruit. Generous and compact at the same time. 92/100

Paul Cluver Riesling 2017 Elgin, South Africa
10.5% alcohol
£12.99
Riesling is quite rare in South Africa, but in the cool climate of Elgin it thrives. Juicy, bright and vivid with lovely fresh citrus fruits. Tangy and zippy with nice balanced and a hint of sweetness (18.4 g/l residual sugar)

Rustenberg Malbec 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
14% alcohol
£11.99
Matured in small oak for 15 months, 10% new. Lovely structure to this richly fruited red wine, with nice focus and precision, showing black cherries and blackberries. Immediate and satisfying. 92/100

Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2018 Santorini, Greece

Santorini, the well known Greek island, is famous for its Assyrtiko wines, made from vines grown with one of the most distinctive viticultural methods out there (the Santorini ‘kouloura’). This stunning white comes from ungrafted 80 year old vines, and it blew me away. I was expecting it to be good, but not this good.

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2018 Santorini, Greece
13.5% alcohol. From 80 year old ungrafted vines, this is a remarkable wine with powerful, mineral lime curd and salty lemon rind fruit. It has amazing texture and a bit of structure, too, with a real saline intensity. Youthful and tight, with great concentration of flavour, this oozes minerality. There’s a lot of fruit, but it’s not really about the fruit at all. Quite profound. 95/100 (UK agent Hallgarten Novum)

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Robert Parker retires

It has been announced today that the world’s most famous wine critic has retired. The critic in question, Robert Parker, pretty much invented the genre, and was the first to use the 100 point scale that has now almost universally been adopted by wine critics. There are now perhaps 25 wannabe Parkers plying their trade as serious, professional wine critics, 10 of whom are employed by the newspaper he set up, The Wine Advocate (TWA). Lead critic there, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, today broke the news of Parker’s final retirement at the age of 71 (he’d pretty much pulled back from most reviewing already).

I never met Parker. I almost did, once, when the new Singapore-based owners of TWA arranged for him to come to London in 2015 for some events, including a press conference. But they had blacklisted Tim Atkin and I for our perceived negative approach to the publication (see [Not] Meeting Robert Parker.]

Like many, when I discovered wine, his book was one of the first I consulted. I loved the way it was opinionated, pretty comprehensive, and written with such obvious enthusiasm.

I had no idea at the time that he was a controversial figure, or that some people disagreed with his preferences. At the time (mid-1990s), I didn’t realize that respected professionals actually disagreed on the merits of some wines. I just thought good wine was good wine, and his strongly expressed opinions were therefore worth following.

Then I began discussing wine on internet Bulletin Boards, such as the Wine Lover’s Discussion Group (WLDG). This had spun off from a previous wine board operated by a service provider called Prodigy, which Robert Parker was a frequent contributor to. Hanging around on the WLDG was a great way to learn about wine, because you could eavesdrop on the conversations between experienced collectors and professionals, and hear what they really thought. And on travels to the USA with work I used to meet up with some of the contributors in events called ‘offlines’. This was the late 1990s, and it was a fertile time for wine on the Internet.

Indeed, there’s a really interesting write up of a dinner that Robert Parker hosted for some of the people who were on the Prodigy board. This was back in 1996. It’s a fascinating read.

Lots has been written about this important figure in the world of wine.

Parker kicked things off, and now wine criticism is here to stay. Is there a new Parker? He nominated Antonio Galloni as his successor, but things went sour and there ended up being talk of legal action. The fiercely ambitious Galloni now has his own wine review empire. James Suckling, once of The Wine Spectator, also has a team of reviewers and holds events around the world. It seems that the future lies with a range of critics, each with their own audience, rather than one kingmaker.

The cloud on the horizon of wine criticism is score creep, though. When Parker established his reputation, he used a much wider range of scores. The competition to be the critic that is quoted has led most to score ever higher, so now the effective score band for fine wines is much smaller. Soon the high-90s will be so cluttered that all fine wines will effectively get the same score.

For now, let’s raise a toast to Bob Parker.

 

 

Shadow work

As humans, we are all mixed. Most of us want to be good, but occasionally we aren’t, even though we may be trying our best to do the right thing.

We sometimes find ourselves behaving selfishly, or we are egotistical, or we react to an adverse situation in a childish way – perhaps we have a tantrum, or we sulk, or we let our emotions express themselves in unhelpful ways. Or we might react to a perceived attack or slight in a vindictive way. This isn’t nice.

If we are to behave like good humans, then we need to do what is sometimes referred to as ‘shadow work.’ This is where we take a personal inventory and try to address any dark elements in our personality that this search uncovers. We need to understand where they come from, what our weaknesses tend to be, and find ways of managing and processing stuff that otherwise would come out as bad behaviour.

It’s important that we do this in a healthy way, of course. Our diet needs to be right. Much of the time we should focus on our strengths and understand that we are good and acceptable, acknowledging that we can’t be good at everything. But, having said this, occasional spurts of shadow work are important, and free us to be the better versions of who we are (I love the famous slogan – ‘I want to be the person that my dog thinks I am’).

And, of course, we aren’t just individuals. We are part of society: something bigger than just ourselves. We don’t live in isolation. And our society – our nation – also has to do some shadow work. It’s interesting to note that collectively, countries struggle with some of the same issues that people do. We can be selfish. We can be territorial and egotistical. We can have tantrums; we can sulk; we can be vindictive to those who slight us.

Together, we have to decide, what sort of country do we want to be? Is our success all that matters, even if it comes at the expense of the success of others? Should we care about people from other countries? How do we respond to asylum seekers? Should we be willing to cooperate, or should we be hard-nosed negotiators, looking out solely for our interests? In this age of populist demagogues, national shadow work is sorely needed.

And what of wineries, and wine regions? Is shadow work also needed there? In the wine business, an important part of sustainability is making money. You can’t be green if you are in the red. But making money can’t be the only goal of a winery or wine region. Ethical issues such as sustainability, carbon footprints, how workers are treated and whether legal wine regulations are followed all matter, and the goal for profit can’t over-ride these. So, yes, I think some shadow work is needed if the wineindustry is to be healthy. We need to be honest; we need to be nice to each other; we need to care.

 

Working for free

Lots of chat at the moment, both in the wine world and also the wider world, about working for free. We live in the intern culture. We get offered gigs that pay by giving us experience; the writing jobs that pay by means of exposure.

This is a tricky area. There’s nothing new about the concept of work experience, and its older cousin, unpaid internships. If you want to get a toe hold in a very attractive career, this can be the only route in.

But it can also be quite exploitative. Sometimes employers and even organizers abuse the system by using the offer of experience or exposure as a way to get free work out of people. Sometimes the equation works out for both parties; often it doesn’t.

If you harbour dreams of becoming a wine writer, and you are in salaried employment in the wine trade, then writing for The Buyer for free might not seem such a terrible idea. You can’t blame the Buyer for making use of writers who see the benefit of being published but who don’t need to make a living from writing work. If they paid normal industry rates, then their fledgling publication would never be able to fly.

And there are a number of wine websites that have a half-way model. They pay a rate that isn’t enough for someone to make a living from writing to survive on, but they actually do pay something. If writers insisted on the sort of living wage rates that writers should be asking for, then their model wouldn’t work.

I get asked to do stuff for free all the time. The wine world is rife with unpaid gigs.

This is how it goes. I get an email enquiry, asking me to talk at a conference, or come and judge wine. I look at the opportunity, and see how attractive it is. I then reply, asking whether there is a budget to pay me, because this is how I make my living (I shouldn’t have to ask this question, but often there isn’t).

Sometimes the answer is no: no budget so no fee. It doesn’t mean I say no: the gig could involve long haul flights to somewhere I want to go to. Or it could involve giving a talk to an important audience at a high profile conference. So I might work for free in some situations, but only if no one else is getting a fee and the organizing body isn’t making lots of money and paying no one anything.

Generally, though, I tend not to do things for free. But I don’t begrudge those who do: many people speaking at conferences are already salaried, and speaking at conferences is something they are expected to do as part of their job. And wine judging in New Zealand and Australia is a high-profile gig for winemakers, and people are queuing up to do it. So no one gets paid.

Then, of course, we have press trips. If I go on a press trip I give up a week of my time for free. But that is justified because I learn, and quite simply there is no other simple way to get to see lots of producers unless I get some help from generic bodies or producer organizations, although I do self-fund some trips because it’s the only way to see some regions.

The problem with the wine world is that it is a very attractive field of endeavour, and lots of people want to work in wine. The resulting supply/demand imbalance means that it’s hard to make a living doing what I do – communicating about wine. You are competing with people who are prepared to work for free, and if you value your work too highly and raise your rates beyond a certain point, then you will lose work, no matter who you are. Also, some people I compete with don’t need to make a good living. Gone are the days where in the UK a wine correspondent would get an annual salary of GBP£40 000 for one column a week, with plenty of opportunity and time for supplementary earnings.

I worry for writers who implement a rigid rule of never working for free. Many of the things you need to do to raise your profile either pay poorly, or don’t pay at all. If you just chase gigs that pay well, you won’t have enough work, and you’ll never build your profile enough to become famous enough that you get the really good gigs. And you’ll miss a lot of interesting stuff.

You are reading this article for free on a blog that is updated daily, and has very good traffic. It makes some money from advertising/sponsorship, but nowhere near enough to justify the time and effort put in. Without this blog, though, I wouldn’t have many of the paying gigs that I do.

Is it wrong to ask people to work for free? There is no blanket answer. Sometimes it really does work for both parties, but if you have budget then it seems morally right to pay people who do work you benefit from. How should you respond if you are asked to work for free? The key, here, as in other works of life, is learning when to say yes and when to say no.