Monday, 22 October 2012

Glass Half Full. 2012 Vintage.

Thanks to Liz Weber for the Picture.

Thinking back on the difficulties of  growing grapes in 2012 anybody sane would have just put the secateurs away, polished the tractor and opened a bottle of 2011 Rosé in memory of sunnier times and then sat in front of the telly for the whole "summer". All the way from late April to the end of September it has been like a stuck record - as long as the weather improves from now then all will be well but, it never did. Twice the work for half the crop. That just about sums up 2012 for us. But looking back we do have reason to be quite happy. The site has withstood all the ravages of the worst summer for 100 years and still produced 1.5 tons of clean ripe quality grapes that will make quality wine. This is remarkable considering some illustrious names have made nothing at all and others are up to 90% down. You can always tell that it's a low volume year when we drop off the crop at the winery. There are normally stressed people in various states of sleep deprivation from 14 hour days pressing and pumping juice but this year it was all very relaxed with plenty of time to plan the wine making and  have a gossip with Kev the cellar manager.
Thanks Celia for the picture.
It's also great to say that harvest itself is becoming a joy. Everybody has a good time and it's great for us as for the rest of the year it's just the two of us working together and all of a sudden you have the sounds of lots of happy people amongst the vines. For the first two years I think my prevailing mood was the stress it being the climax to a whole years hard graft and all the things that could go wrong.  Now we have done it a few times we have a two week timetable of preparation that means that once we get to the day itself you have a chance to relax a bit more and get into the spirit of things.

The few days post harvest are strange. You have yet to kick your five times a day Accuweather habit and planning your weeks around spray intervals. Without the grapes the vineyard instantly looks bare and has a very different feeling that is hard to explain, autumn has now begun. Inevitably, your mind starts to think about next year and I found myself picking grapes whilst also looking at where I would make the winter pruning cuts. 2013 starts here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why the price of wine will go up and up.

Things are changing in the world of volume wine trading which makes my job quite interesting at the moment. A series of factors have come into play that mean that wine as a whole is going to become a bit more of a luxury item for most people rather than the first thing that they thoughtlessly reach for from the fridge after a hard day at the office. This is not just down to high taxation although this plays a part. What used to happen was that if the price of something like Chilean Cabernet went up because a poor harvest or more likely foreign exchange movement, then buyers would just drop it and move onto whatever else was cheap which could be Spanish Tempranillo or California Merlot, it didn't matter.
  For years there has been over supply particularly from the European powerhouses of France, Italy and Spain. Growers have been desperate to get anybody to buy their grapes but also with the full knowledge that if nobody did then a friendly EU official would come along and take them off their hands to distill into industrial alcohol. For a few years now governments have been encouraging people to plant alternative crops to cut out the surplus. Unfortunately good sites are just as likely as bad sites to be grubbed up and so it doesn't mean anything for quality. 

Another factor is that the world has become smaller and so growers have cottoned onto what  everybody else is getting for their grapes and coupled with rapidly rising demand particularly in the USA and China means that there is less chance of trading off one region against another. It only took one important Chinese buyer to take a trip to Spain last year to hoover up a six or seven million litres to have a major knock on effect on pricing. 
You now hear from many important producers that they are less interested in selling the the UK when they can get more money and get treated better elsewhere. It is true that some supermarkets can be abominable in doing things like delisting lines without warning for stock specifically labelled for them that can't be sold elsewhere. It has to be said not all of them do this and it's certainly not necessarily the ones who are always seen as being the bad guys in the media!
 In the shorter term there have also been poor harvests in some of the real volume regions of Spain, Italy and to some extent France. New Zealand is also short from 2012 which all stacks up to price rises.
What does this mean - well in general it should be good news for growers. The suppliers of raw materials are always the ones that feel the real pain of our insatiable desire for cheap goods. People need to look to providing them with more secure long term contracts that they can take to banks in order to borrow money for cash flow, expansion and maybe even better quality who knows! 
What does it mean? In the long term it will also be interesting to see where new plantings emerge. It will be dependent on climate change and  water availability in particular  which would rule out places such as Australia, California and maybe South Africa. My money is on serious expansion in China where they have already proved with crops such as apples that they are capable of large scale consistent and efficient production. Much as I would love England and Wales to fill the gap we will always be a niche high cost region however much growers currently worry about oversupply.
My other prediction is that consumers will turn to wine based drinks that have fruit juices or other flavourings added and probably lower alcohol - Peach Bellini or a Cranberry Cabernet anybody?

Watch this space!