Grapevine Archive for November, 2010
Clare Mugford and her winemaker husband, Keith, are owners of Moss Wood, one of the pioneering vineyards in Margaret River. Members might be amused to see this photograph of Clare in the vineyard during the 2010 harvest. We ‘lent’ Claire one of our high-visibility vests (which are a requirement when touring The Society’s warehouse) following a visit here last year.
Christmas is always a very busy time at The Society with a fourfold increase in orders relative to normal trading levels.
Planning starts in January with a full debrief about what went right and wrong so that we can learn the lessons and improve our service the following year.
Last year, gift cards were a problem and to avoid bottlenecks we reluctantly resorted to sending some cards separately by post. This year, we have developed a new process to speed up the accurate matching of cards to cases and are pleased to report that all gift cases will now be delivered complete with greetings cards.
Also last year, the early cold snap caused havoc on the roads in the vital last few days before the 25th. We are proud of the efforts made by our drivers and carriers to ensure that the vast majority of wine was delivered in time.
In readiness this year, we have arranged for all replacement vans to be front-wheel drive (which cope better in snow and ice), instructed our drivers how to deal with severe weather conditions and kitted them out with special equipment. When choosing the equipment we just couldn’t resist the snow shovels painted in Wine Society red.
But please help us get ahead of the game by placing your order in plenty of time. As an incentive, members who place an order by Sunday, 5th December will be entered into a draw to win a case of mature 1990 Claret worth more than £900, or one of 50 magnums or 100 bottles of The Society’s Champagne.
Early orders help us spread the Christmas load, plan ahead and provide a better service; come rain or come shine.
Head of Operations
My week in the Rhône is finishing on a high note and there will be more to say on the new vintages soon. What is remarkable about this first week is the improving quality of the white wines, and especially those from Saint Péray.
This is surely the least known of the northern Rhône appellations and also one of the smallest, smaller even than adjoining Cornas. Stranger still, Saint Péray is white only and it really earned its reputation for sparkling wine which was once prized above Champagne and counted Napoleon Bonaparte and Richard Wagner among its fans. Such was its fame that Saint Péray was one of the first to be granted appellation status way back in 1936. A long period of decline then set in and soon the vineyards were under threat from land developers as the town of Valence began to expand.
Saint Péray is a white-only appellation and the question must be why when so much around is red. The answer in short is largely down to geology. The vineyard nestles in a sort of bowl, south east facing. The lower slopes are on an ancient bed of the Rhône and here the soils are stony on sands and clays. To the south, dominated by the ruins of the Château de Crussol, vines are planted on a classic mixture of chalk and clay, perfect for whites. Above the town, the land rises quickly and steeply and here the vines are planted on terraces and the soil is increasingly of decomposed granite. Saint Péray is so small that most growers have vines elsewhere, especially in Cornas, and as the quality of Cornas has soared in recent years so the same attention to detail has given the whites of Saint Péray a much-needed boost.
Growers like Alain Voge and Auguste Clape, both based in Cornas, were among the first to present high quality whites and Voge the first to age his wines in barrel. But the real change came from the town of Saint Péray itself which brought in big measures to rescue the appellation and protect the vineyards from developers. They encouraged the region’s big players to take an interest so now Jaboulet, Chapoutier and, of course, the excellent Tain Coop are all involved in promoting Saint Péray.
The reason why sparkling wine flourishes is because marsanne and roussanne grapes retain acidity here and this is also why the still wines are becoming so interesting. The recovery has been necessarily slow as the vineyards have had to be transformed from the high yields required for sparkling wine to much lower yields needed to produce rich full-flavoured still whites. The wines share some of the same characteristics as other white Rhônes: generous, full flavours of lemon and honey when young which go nutty with age. But in Saint Péray there is always a seam of acidity and minerality which prevents any heaviness. The wines keep extremely well; better than whites from Crozes Hermitage. I tasted Jean Lionnet’s 2002, a so-called poor year and even more remarkable a 1992 from Bernard Gripa, from an even poorer vintage. Both were fresh, alive and quite delicious. Moving on, the 2009s are outstanding and they’re will be many in this year’s opening offer.