Quiet start to year for me personally, although the office has been humming... our Great Boom of the autumn seems to be continuing (must thank the customers). Have had time to read all the trade papers and magazines that mount up when you are busy. This thing about how the New World is knocking France out of the wine business. Les Vignerons taking to the streets again ... disaster!
I don't think so.
I've been around long enough to see demo's on the streets of France ... Hey, I was there in '68. Spoke no French then so no idea what the 'manifs' were about ... but they were a welcome break from a daily 10 hours on the bottling line.
And I was there the next crisis on the night in 1970-something when the winegrowers 'sacked' Narbonne and threw the government men in the canal. It's just the French way. They erupt. Every decade. It works for them. They feel better and government always gives in.
Now, all the worst wines (wines that dont even come up on our radar) will be distilled to fuel cars. And next year could well be a tiny harvest if nature so decides. And then there'll be shortages again. It's a cycle.
But in Australia the wine growers are actually no happier. We will again soon be seeing them wandering hopelessly round the cellar doors of wineries with their shopping bags of ripe fruit (often priceless stuff) trying to get an order. They probably won't burn Adelaide but they may well rip out their vineyards, heartbroken.
I read yesterday (in some trade mag or other) that Australia has almost 2,000 wineries, but just 22 of them make 97% of the nation's wine. Those cliched brands lining the shelves of your local supermarket ... and sadly now the High Street retailers too. Don't desert Australia, but find yourself a little guy who's more interested in making wine than accumulating stock options!
Real winemaking is not and never has been, all fun.
But mostly it is. And of course the customers are having a whoopee time just now ... everything's so cheap.
As for the Great British switch in stylistic preference from France to Oz. Again, I'm not so sure. Again because I have been around so long. And those of us 'in the trade' tend to see market trends as just that ... trends. If we were not I guess we wouldn't be any good at our job. And we are not drinking too much new world.
Ten or so years ago I was stuffing my own little cellar as full of massive blockbuster Aussie reds as I could lay hands on.
Today I am scrabbling around most nights trying to find something that will NOT depth-charge my mouth. "Please", whimpers the wife, "can we just have a nice GENTLE red that loves the roast lamb rather than tries to blow it away".
I use up the Black Bombers the nights the boys come round and food is an afterthought. (Not that there are many such nights now we are all knocking 60).
Anyway, those avoiders of French wine have picked just the wrong time to go elsewhere because the rest of us have the 2003 vintage to ourselves. Hottest summer in history. Oodles of wines that manage to remain French but have new world sunshine levels that give them an unique juicy roundness. Will we ever see such again?
I have a row of sumptuous 2003 Beaujolais Cru wines lined up before me on the table here (which have obviously precipitated this rant). Golly gosh but they are delectable. Wines it is impossible to find anywhere else in the world and so lovely they make New World winemakers cry with frustration. Cos they cant do this. I saw this sight last harvest!
The doubters will guffaw, I know. Because Beaujolais is, possibly along with Muscadet now the most naff wine it's possible to order this side of Liebfraumilch.
Only the brain dead, or those in a 70's time warp, drink Beaujolais Nouveau. Yes, well who said anything about Beaujolais Nouveau? I'm talking the opposite end of the spectrum; Beaujolais Vieux ...
Beaujolais of the type made by old Mademoiselle Chabert, the late Queen of Fleurie, made boss of the village cellar after her father took ill, a position she then held for half a century! She once fetched out for me bottles of Fleurie from the 1920s and 1930s, still drinking beautifully.
These are the wines produced in the most favoured vineyards, the 'Cru' (french word we cannot really translate. 'Gold Top' is about as close as we get).
Nouveau was something that happened when Beaujolais got too popular, too trendy. When people drank it who didn't know what it was supposed to be. Me, I avoided selling the stuff. It was grown on all the cheap land within the appellation (and, they say, outside of it too).
I have walked the Beaujolais hills from end to end and I can tell you it can be freezing on the hilltops where they the make nouveau, and at the same time cozy warm on the steep, sun-facing slopes in Julienas, Morgon, Fleurie and all. Makes a huge difference and the 2003 Cru have a trumpet blast of pure fruit to challenge anything from the southern hemisphere. But held weightless and seductive, siren-like, rather than whacking you over the head with an oak stave.
These are the sort of wines I'm drinking now. The New World must be careful, they may risk losing their new reputation if they too push out too much cheapo stuff to satisfy the boom.
What the wine trade folk are drinking is French, Italian, Spanish from clever wine producers who are fightiing back in the market place rather than marching to the Prefecture.