I’m just on the way home from Lisbon. I’ve spent today consulting for a major Alentejo winery that changed hands a while back. The new owner is smart enough to seek outside opinions before making changes, and through his new winemaker made an approach to me.
So I visited, looked around the vineyards, had a look at the winery, and spent some time tasting through the existing range of wines. What did I think of the style of the wines? What about the composition of the range? How’s the packaging? In the vineyard, is the varietal mix right? Irrigated or dry grown? What about picking decisions? We considered these sorts of questions.
The owner spent some time talking through their own thoughts on how to move things forwards. I shared my views.
I know it isn’t normal for journalists to act as consultants to wineries. It also creates some ethical issues if the relationship is any more than just a one-off session: for example, if there were an ongoing gig this would have to be declared at every mention of the winery, and it wouldn’t be possible to review the wines in the normal journalistic fashion.
But I’ve begun to realize that after several years of travelling the wine world, visiting wine regions and wineries, and asking lots of questions – coupled with a good grounding in technical aspects of winegrowing – that I have quite a bit of valuable experience. Pair this with good judgement, and an understanding of the various segments of the marketplace, and it makes sense to do some consulting from time to time. It’s also work that I enjoy a lot.
One of the main things that travelling extensively through the wine world has taught me is that there is no recipe. Steps that lead to success in one region or country, or one segment of the marketplace, might be a mistake in others. It’s not an exact science, and you have to spend time considering the specific needs of any one project before you give suggestions. And there’s another thing: good consultants empower their clients, while bad ones keep them in dependency.
It was lovely to be in the vineyards today, in the Alentejo – a region I have a lot of time for. It was hot, close to 40 C, but it’s a dry heat. The vintage here is starting in a few days for the whites, while the reds will begin coming in in a couple of weeks. Cabernet Sauvignon was looking very good, Aragonez a little less so, and Alicante Bouschet, the red fleshed teinturier, was looking pretty smart. It’s always nice to be in the vineyard right before harvest, seeing the grapes on the vines. Soon they will be transformed by the action of microbes into wine. It’s an exciting time of year.