Grapevine Archive for November, 2014

Fri 28 Nov 2014

The Society’s Cellar Showroom – 25 Years On

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Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan was the original manager of The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage when it opened 25 years ago. We asked him to share some of his memories following a celebration of its anniversary last week

The Wine Society Cellar Showroom

The grand opening, 1989…

It is truly amazing to think that it is now 25 years since Lisa Fletcher and I opened The Wine Society showroom in November of 1989. It was, as you can imagine, a full-on couple of months in the lead up to our first Christmas serving members and getting used to our new environment; something that had been in the planning for a full 12 months prior to this.

The Wine Society Showroom

…and The Showroom today

Members embraced their new facility enthusiastically, I recall, and we were busy from the off with systems not quite bedded in and our warehouse not used to having to supply a new shop with a just- in-time stock feed as well as double the number of members’ daily orders.

With only the two of us to start with we quickly realised we had underestimated just how popular the new Showroom would be and we immediately had to call for back up in the form of Samantha Vooght, who along with Lisa has been there ever since.

The Wine Society Showroom

Emma Dorahy and Lisa Fletcher reminiscing at The Cellar Showroom 25th anniversary celebration

Because we hadn’t had a facility like this before there had been no outlet for selling the small quantities of wines that necessarily collect over the years. One of the things that gave me enormous pleasure was trawling through the hundreds of pallets (named ‘RB’ pallets after Ron Bracey who headed the warehouse at the time) of wines we had at our fingertips for sale in the Showroom. Small stocks of hundreds of different wines which had been untouched for years and that I had to log, price and make available for sale to delighted members. Some of these were very old and very fine indeed.

Another of my abiding memories in the first year was in the lead up to Christmas when our lift broke down and so we were no longer able to get stock or members’ orders from the warehouse. I could barely watch while staff members hauled tottering pallet after pallet down Norton Green Road while queues of members formed very quickly in the Showroom waiting for their Christmas cases.

The Wine Society showroom tasting

A special Showroom tasting gave us the opportunity to celebrate with a number of familiar faces

It was very nice the other night, when we celebrated the first 25 years, to see so many familiar faces from when I first opened the Showroom with Lisa and to know that they still continue to visit – testament in no small part to Lisa and her team who have succeeded in improving and developing the Showroom over the years and welcome the members just as enthusiastically today as they did then.

It was Lisa’s idea to contact growers that have had a long relationship with The Society to contribute wines for a special tasting. Along with the wines, many chose to send their good wishes and messages of support for The Society which we thought members would like to read. There’s a selection below and more on our website here.

Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond!

Shaun Kiernan
Fine Wine Manager

Alister Purbrick from Tahbilk wines

Alister Purbrick from Tahbilk

• ‘Three generations of the Purbrick family have been involved in nurturing this relationship with The Wine Society’s management team and staff and, in these modern times when it seems that few companies have a desire to build strong strategic business relationships, it’s refreshing that The Wine Society shares this cultural value with Tahbilk and also appreciates, nurtures and values long-term mutually beneficial relationships.’
Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk Wines

• ‘I love to work with The Wine Society – a very honourable company with wonderful people sharing the passion for wine.’
Annegret Reh Gartner, von Kesselstatt

• ‘There are few companies I would describe as a jewel in the crown of distribution. The Wine Society is certainly one that stands out. The professionalism and knowledge of the teams at all levels is second to none.’
Charlie Sichel, Maison Sichel

• ‘We are immensely proud of our century-long association with The Wine Society. We have always found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Society; people who love wine and the regions from where they come from and who really understand what goes into making great wines, and we appreciate their profound knowledge of what we do.’
Paul Symington, Symington Family Estates

• ‘Nowadays, Marcel Orford-Williams and The Wine Society are probably the best Alsace ambassadors in the English speaking world. I have also to insist on the quality of our relationship, which is much more than just business, it includes comprehension, respect, loyalty and much pleasure.’
Marc Beyer, Maison Léon Beyer

• ‘The Wine Society have supported me and my wines with faithful regularity and I can honestly say that I have been a grateful and convinced promoter of The Society. I am frequently asked by friends and even chance acquaintances ‘where can we buy your wines?’ and I have no hesitation in suggesting the The Wine Society.’
Anthony Barton, Langoa and Léoville Barton

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Wed 26 Nov 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

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No, we’re not in America. However if you, like me, went to the NFL Wembley games last month; watch so many American crime/comedy dramas on TV that your accent is in danger of changing; or attend the opening of every new burger joint in town…

Tomorrow our cousins across the pond will be celebrating Thanksgiving, and why should they have all the fun?!

Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie

What wine to choose with the demands of Thanksgiving’s onslaught of savoury and sweet dishes?

This year I will actually be visiting my sister who lives in New York to see the Macy’s parade and eat turkey and pumpkin pie by her Chelsea (Manhattan, not SW3) apartment fire.

s California Old-Vine Zinfandel from The Wine SocietyVery few wines can stand up to the onslaught of savoury and sweet dishes all in one go, but luckily one American classic can – zinfandel.

Its characteristic unevenly ripening bunches mean that the resultant wines often have both a sweet raisin and sour-cherry note, the low tannin level and juicy acidity make it a pretty good pairing with turkey and cranberry sauce.

The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel is a great example of this style. If you fancy giving it a go either with a late take on an American Thanksgiving dinner party, or indeed as a possible pairing for your Christmas turkey this year then I humbly suggest now the time to give it a try!

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for North America

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Tue 25 Nov 2014

Retsina, But Not As We Know It?

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Tetramythos (stress the second syllable) has deservedly been getting attention for its Retsina (£7.95 per bottle) from people who know what they are talking about:

Tetramythos team

With the Tetramythos team on my last visit.

Tim Atkin MW said, ‘This is no ordinary, drink-it-on-holiday Retsina. It’s biodynamic, fermented in amphorae with wild yeasts and highly unusual. The pine resin notes are restrained and enjoyable, adding a Mediterranean herb like dimension to the pear, beeswax and honey fruit. The wine finishes tangy and dry.’

David Williams of The Observer called it ‘the first I’ve tried outside Greece that actually invited a second sip. The pine is restrained, the base wine brisk and lemony: a match for fishy meze and stuffed vine leaves.’

The winery, owned by brothers Aristides and Stathis Spanos, is in fact beautifully equipped and spotless having been totally rebuilt in 2008 after the former place and much of the local village (but not vineyards) was destroyed in a horrific bush fire the year before.

The secret of their Retsina is that it is based on an excellent-quality white from the roditis grape. The pine resin, which I watched Stathis gather from their trees overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, is suspended in its amphora in a kind of tea bag, just enough to add a herby touch.

Tetramythos - pine resin

Collecting pine resin

The amphora allows some oxygen in to help the wine develop without altering the taste with wood.

Tetramythos amphoras

The wine is fermented without sulphur (a minimal amount is added afterwards) and the grapes are wholly organic. The wine can do you nothing but good!

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer for Greece

This wine is currently available in our Look East offering, which covers a number of exciting wines from Greece, Hungary and the Balkans, including three mixed cases.

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Fri 21 Nov 2014

Picturing Rioja: Infographics

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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’d wish I had these kinds of infographics when I was studying for my wine exams many harvests ago.

I’d always had a mental block when trying to remember the ageing laws for Rioja that cover crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines. The age in bottle and age in barrel would regularly get mixed up (was gran reserva two years in barrel and three in bottle or vice versa?).

To be honest, this remained the case until quite recently, or at least until I started work on the Rioja infographic below. This was created around our current Spanish offer, featuring as it does a number of different styles of Rioja.

Rioja infographic - The Wine Society

Click to enlarge

The idea of an infographic is convey information in a visual format. There are millions of examples on the internet (a quick Google just brought back 8 million results and seem to cover every conceivable subject, including Superheroes and World Octopus Day…).

There seems to be no reason why this approach shouldn’t work for wine so we had a crack at it, firstly with a Loire example earlier in the year and now in more detail with this one. Some of us respond to visual prompts more readily than others. I’m guessing I fall into that category as I can now remember my Rioja ageing laws without thinking about it, shame it’s taken me so many years to realise!

As with everything we do at The Society the end result has to be useful to members, so what do you think? Is this approach helpful? Are there other regions or even other wine related information that you would like to see presented in this way?

Do let us know.

Gareth Park
Campaign Manager

EDIT: 5th December: Following a number of requests, we have reproduced this infographic in PDF format for members to print.

Categories : Spain
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Tue 18 Nov 2014

Visiting Taylor’s Port

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Our whirlwind prize-winners’ Portugal trip started with a private tour and extensive tasting at Taylor’s Port wine cellars in the heart of the historic area of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Established over three centuries ago, in 1692, Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding port houses – The Society being a mere baby in comparison!

Set in beautiful gardens with views across the Douro River, Taylor’s Port lodge is in a stunning location. Although we arrived in the rain, we were soon given a very warm welcome from our host Chris Forbes, Taylor’s marketing projects manager. We started with a refreshing glass of ‘Chip Dry’, usually served as an aperitif in the Douro, ‘Chip Dry’ is a mixture of one part of white port with two parts of chilled tonic water served in a tall glass, with lemon and ice. Delicious.

The remarkable cool cellars at Taylors

The remarkable cool cellars at Taylors

Chris showed us Taylor’s long cool, dark cellars which house the casks and vats where the ports age, giving us a history of Taylor’s along the way (to read more about Taylor’s history visit their excellent website). The cellars’ thick granite walls and high ceilings keep the port casks at an even temperature, particularly important during the hot summer months but not such an issue on a rainy October afternoon!

Taylor’s wines come from their three quintas in the Douro valley, each with their own unique character: Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco.

It was clear that Taylor’s still embrace the traditional methods of making port from the hand-picking and selection of grapes in the vineyard through to foot treading the grapes in lagars (wide thigh-deep granite tanks) in the quinta.

Prior to visiting the Douro, foot treading conjured up visions of fun and frivolity. However, in reality it is a very physical, laborious process lasting between 2-3 hours. Taylor’s still see this as the best way to achieve the gentle yet complete extraction of juice and pulp from the grapes without crushing the pips that would release bitter tastes into the wine.

Foot treading at Taylor’s

Following our tour, Chris treated us to an extensive tasting of some outstanding ports. Chris explained the differences between what makes a Vintage, Crusted and Tawny port (Mark Buckenham, The Society’s port buyer gives a guide to different ports in our How To Buy Port guide).

Tasting the ports at Taylor's

Alongside tasting our very own Exhibition Crusted Port and Exhibition Tawny Port, 10 years old made for us by Taylor’s, highlights included the Fonseca Guimareans 1998 Vintage Port, Taylor’s 1985 Vintage port, Taylor’s 20-Year-Old Tawny and the fine, silky Taylor’s 1964 Single Harvest Port.

Tasting our Exhibition ports 'in situ', among others

Tasting our Exhibition ports ‘in situ’, among others

It was a wonderful start to our Douro trip. Thank you, Taylor’s!

Elizabeth Brown
Recruitment & Retention Manager

Categories : Port, Portugal
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This is the second part of my report on helping out with the 2014 harvest at Domaine Jones. Read part one here.

Checking to see how ripe the grapes are at Domaine Jones

Me, checking to see how ripe the grapes are

The 2014 vintage
Back to the 2014 vintage and the grapes that had already been harvested – all the whites (except carignan gris and a little muscat) plus a few select vineyards of syrah. The whites were bubbling away nicely in stainless steel and barriques and we were to take their temperature and measure their densities twice a day to check on how the fermentation was progressing. Katie’s eighteen-year-old nephew, Owen, who had arrived at the same time as us and was at the start of a gap year, transcribed our daily readings onto a graph – if only science had been this much fun when we were at school!

Putting a foot in it at Domaine Jones

Putting a foot in it

The syrah grapes had come from selected vineyards and cold macerated for 15 days before being put into barrels to extract extra colour and flavour from the skins. The grapes from individual vineyards were put into separate barrels. When Katie suggested we removed our shoes and socks and got into the barrels we thought she was teasing us! But no, this is one of the best ways to punch down the cap of grape skins that rise to the top (pigeage) and also gives them a gentle pressing.

It also proved to be quite an enjoyable sensation – people have probably paid spas a great deal of money for something similar! This exercise was also to be repeated twice daily… putting the feet into Fitou! As the yeasts did their thing over the time we were there and the density went down, getting into the barrels started to become a bit more precarious for those of us shorter of limb!

Going out the next day with Jean-Marc to test more vineyards for picking (prélèvement), we discovered just how valuable local knowledge is to interpreting scientific readings. The differences between our grape samples were explained away as Jean-Marc knew from experience which parts of the vineyards ripened better.

Checking the pH of the grapes at Domaine Jones

Checking the pH of the grapes

On the way back to Tuchan we carried out the same exercise on a plot of syrah (still not ready) and on a plot of grenache vines on flatter ground right under the Château d’Aguilar on river stone soils not unlike the famous pudding stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This and the next plot of syrah vines, virtually in the town itself, were deemed to be ‘nearly there’…. perhaps we would get to pick after all!

Ready, set, go…
After tourist trips at the weekend down to impossibly pretty Collioure on the Côte Vermeille, where we were treated to a flash-mob-style sardana (traditional Catalan folk dance) and an energetic postprandial climb up the craggy Quéribus castle – last stronghold of the Cathars, we found out that we would be picking on Monday morning. We were to meet at 7am ready to get going at first light, the aim to get the grapes in before the heat of the day – in the interest of the quality of the wine (and us)! The venue for our first pick was the last vineyard we’d visited on our sampling trip. A plot of 15 rows of syrah vines on the outskirts of Tuchan which we had fondly named ‘Molly’s vineyard’ (having mis-heard Jean-Marc telling us it was named after a demolished church – La Chapelle Démolie).

We got an early night after re-acquainting ourselves with Katie’s instructions for pickers:

Your back will ache. It will ache so much you will want to find your own unique way of cutting grapes – sitting, kneeling, lying down – but years of experience tell us that there is only one way to cut grapes and it kills your back… rest assured the first couple of days are the worst!

I could almost see my osteopath rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Sunrise over Domaine Jones

Sunrise over Domaine Jones

The morning of our first pick
We were treated to a spectacular sunrise the next day and the sleepy streets of Tuchan were the busiest we’d seen them; the narrow streets alive with little tractors trundling through the town with orange warning lights flashing on their roofs, looking a little like over-sized Tonka Toys than real-life vineyard machinery. Perhaps it was like this every morning and we’d just missed ‘rush hour’ up till now.

After a quick demonstration by Katie of how to pick (see below), we chose our row and got started. Katie had said to avoid the grapes at the end of the stalks and to stick to the centre of the plant. She showed us how the syrah grapes sometimes had a shrivelled appearance but that this was a good sign, showing ripeness not rot.

Picking syrah at Domaine JonesWe had a couple of brief stops for water and biscuits but managed to pick the whole vineyard – a total of 900 kilos in one go, and yes it was back-breaking. The suggestion that we would hurt in muscles that we didn’t know we had was pretty accurate. Probably one of the most back-breaking aspects was carrying the little crates to load them onto the van at the end of the morning. They look quite small but each carries enough grapes to produce about a case of wine, so perhaps it is not surprising they weigh as much as they do.

We drove back to base so that the grapes could be de-stemmed and put in the chiller straight away, stopping briefly to pick up (a for once deserved) pickers’ lunch of homemade meatballs with olives from Jean-Marc’s mother, which was so appreciated after our hard morning’s work.



We all slept well that night.

What next for our grapes?

Sorting syrah at Domaine Jones - harder than it looks!

Sorting syrah – harder than it looks!

The next morning we went to the winery for the next stage in the process. ‘Our’ grapes now needed to be sorted on a sorting table (table de triage) – another piece of kit that Katie and Jean-Marc had acquired for this harvest and another important process in the production of hand-crafted wines. I hadn’t expected this to be that taxing but watching 900 kilos of grapes jump about on a vibrating table at considerable speed is actually quite intense! Four-a-side, we had to keep our eyes trained on the moving table, picking out any stray leaves, stems, stalks and less-than-perfect grapes as they moved quite quickly into waiting tubs at the end of the line. That night I dreamed of tiny specks dancing before my eyes and jumping around at a tormenting distance just out of reach!

The sorted grapes would go then go straight into vat to start fermentation. Katie said that they would more than likely go into her Domaine Jones Syrah, but each vineyard would be vinified separately and it might be bottled as a single-vineyard ‘Perles de Jones’ syrah. We would have to wait and see.

Homeward bound
The next day we would have to leave our ‘babies’ behind and return to our corporeal off-spring, but before catching the plane we had just enough time to go and watch a vineyard being picked by a team of experienced pickers. The team was made up of Polish, Portuguese and local pickers and it was exciting forming part of the procession of vendangeurs in the early morning light, creeping our way through the dust thrown up by the various vehicles up a mountain road to the vineyard.

The grapes being picked were muscat; the boar had been spotted trying to snaffle them up, so they needed to be harvested quickly, and the speed with which the experienced team did this was phenomenal. The vineyard was in a beautiful spot on a rocky slope surrounded by pine trees and as the sun came up it shone through the amber grapes making it look as though it was little nuggets of gold that were being harvested, not grapes. The multilingual chatter up and down the rows and the common aim of filling up the caskets was exactly how I had pictured the vendange.

But though this had been a holiday and a fantastic one too, we had also learned so much more than you can from a text book. There’s no substitute for getting your hands (and feet!) dirty and we are eternally grateful to Katie and Jean-Marc for letting us be a very small part in their 2014 vintage.

As we left for the airport the Tramontagne had started to blow; a good sign and we left Katie and Jean-Marc fully geared up to getting the rest of the grapes in. We were sorry to miss the full thrust of the harvest but delighted to have played a part in looking after the whites and reds in barrel and vat and to have brought in and sorted OUR syrah grapes. We will now have to wait to see which wines buyer Marcel-Orford Williams chooses when the wines become ready for tasting and hope that maybe some of our efforts will be coming home to Stevenage.

But what else had we learned?
1. It takes guts to start up a winery.
2. Fitou – it’s actually an appellation within Corbières.
3. Grapes for Fitou – must have a minimum of 20% carignan and a minimum of 20% grenache but together must account for at least 60% of the blend (syrah or mourvèdre making up the rest.)
4. Being a small winemaker you need to be able to turn your hand to everything – electrician, DIY expert, mathematician, farmer, host/hostess, scientist, salesman, designer, inventor.
5. The vineyards of Maury where Katie bought her first vines (the next valley along – where the local dialect switches from Occitan to Catalan) once produced 800k hectolitres but now only make 100k hl – mainly due to the decrease in demand for sweet wines.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

You can find wines currently listed by Domaine Jones here

Categories : France, South of France
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Don’t worry, nobody dies but does contain holiday snaps!

Domaine JonesWho in their right mind would choose to take time out from work and pay for the privilege of picking grapes? I’m sure this question was being muttered by the real pickers when we spent a week at Domaine Jones in the Languedoc recently, theoretically to help with the harvest.

Despite having worked in the wine trade for nearly 25 years and having visited wineries around the world, both in a professional capacity and under my own steam, I have never experienced harvest time. A few of us at The Wine Society decided that it was about time we did, while we still could!

Normally pitching up at a winery during the harvest is not a good idea. It’s an incredibly busy time, but because some of our (younger) colleagues have helped Katie Jones with the harvest before, we knew that she was used to dealing with inexperienced, if albeit much fitter, pickers.

Katie Jones in her original Domaine Jones vineyard beneath Queribus

Katie Jones in her original vineyard beneath Queribus

As well as being a supplier to The Society, Katie also happens to be a university friend of Liz Cerroti, head of Member Services at The Society. Taking advantage of this connection, Liz, myself and digital marketing manager, Nicky Glennon decided to take the plunge and head south for the vendage.

One of the first issues we had to face back in February when the decision had been made to descend upon Katie was when to book our flights. Though it is possible to give rough estimates of likely picking dates (100-120 days after flowering), narrowing this down to the exact day when the grapes will be fully ripe that also coincides with Ryanair’s availability and family and work commitments is another matter. Added to this, 2014 has been something of an unpredictable year with Mother Nature throwing just about everything she has at grape growers across Europe.

Pre-picking & packing concerns
As the holiday approached, other concerns started to enter into play. How on earth would we be able to pack for a week including walking boots and gear for all weathers as well as ‘clothes that you would never want to wear again’ and comply with the stringent hand-luggage restrictions? Then there were anxieties over how some of us with dodgy backs and knees would cope physically with the punishing work that picking is…. not to mention scare stories about wasps, hornets, accidents with razor-sharp shears, heat stroke…. and then in the winery…. the dangers of asphyxiation from the CO2, limbs being severed by machinery… trip hazards… it was all starting to sound a bit serious and not at all in-keeping with the joyful bucolic scene we’d somehow conjured up for ourselves!

After psyching ourselves up for the big pick we were then a little disappointed to see the forecast looking less than rosy and to find out that the whites were already in. It was starting to look distinctly unlikely that we’d be doing any picking at all.

Domaine Jones winery‘Never mind’, Katie said, ‘there’s still plenty to do in the winery.’

One of the real benefits of spending time at somewhere like Domaine Jones, apart from the fact that Katie and partner Jean-Marc Astruc are terrific hosts and incredibly patient, is that their operation is small enough for you to see a bit of everything that takes place in the winemaking process. Also, because they too are quite new to this game (Jean-Marc comes from a family of grape growers and used to be president at the local co-op where Katie was responsible for marketing and sales for 16 years), they are still experimenting and learning as they go along too.

In the heart of Cathar country
Domaine Jones is located in the village of Tuchan (toosh-ohn), a small village of around 800 souls (and twice as many dogs, themselves outnumbered by the local wild boar). It is located about 40 minutes’ drive inland from Perpignan in Cathar country, its vineyards nestled around the foothills of the mighty Mont Tauch with its crown of bright white windmills. This is Fitou territory and grape-growing is the main activity of the village, as it has been for generations.

The countryside is spectacularly beautiful with the Cathar castles indistinguishable from the craggy ranges they cling to and deep river gorges cutting through the garrigue – the scrubland perfumed with wild fennel, rosemary and fig trees. There’s plenty to attract the visitor without the draw of the excellent wines.

Looking down on the Maury vineyard from the top of Queribus

Looking down on the Maury vineyard from the top of Queribus

…a bit of background on Domaine Jones
When Katie decided to leave the co-op she initially intended to set up her own marketing and design consultancy but her Francophile parents had always harboured a romantic notion of owning some vines. So when Katie was offered a 2.5-hectare plot of old vines in nearby Maury (over the ‘col’ in neighbouring Roussillon), she decided to raise the funds to buy it – realising, if vicariously, her parents’ dream.

Katie and Jean-Marc took us to view these vines, high up on the hills beneath spectacular Quéribus castle on black schistous soils; even to the untrained eye they looked pretty special. When Katie bought the vineyard (they came onto the market as the ancient vines – some up to 100 years old – were low-yielding and difficult to farm) she had been told that the vines were grenache noir, but the plot turned out to have grenache gris, carignan and muscat too – quite unusual in such a small vineyard (you can read more about this in our interview with Katie a few years ago).

The beauty of starting out in this way was that Katie was forced to pick and ferment everything separately and learned from the outset how different varieties would behave. It also meant that she had a rich palette of raw materials with which to put together blends. The Domaine Jones Rouge and Blanc were born with the 2009 vintage and met with critical acclaim from the start.

Jumping ahead to 2014 and Katie has continued to buy up small plots of low-yielding vines in and around the village of Tuchan, mainly to produce Fitou, so that there are now a total of around 11 hectares spread out over 25 vinyeards. Like the original Maury vineyard, many of these are small plots of old vines that the locals no longer wish to farm. One such plot is of the extremely rare carignan gris – a mutation of carignan noir. Katie and Jean-Marc only have 500 vines, but apparently theirs are only about two heactares registered in the whole of France. The grape is notoriously difficult to ripen, is low-yielding and is generally lower in potential alcohol but, Katie was very pleased with the first release of this wine which she has labelled under her ‘Perles de Jones’ label and Wine Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams snapped up the whole production. Fiona Beckett wrote a rave review of the wine which came out while we were at the Domaine; Katie and Jean-Marc were thrilled.

Jean-Marc explaining how parts of the vineyard ripen more than others. Domaine Jones.

Jean-Marc explaining how parts of the vineyard ripen more than others.

Jean-Marc told us how he tried to get hold of more plants from the vine nursery in Montpellier but the pépiniériste only had five roots and was not willing to part with any of them so Katie and Jean-Marc will be taking cuttings from their own vines to increase their plantings of this capricious variety. It was the last grape to be picked in 2014 on 5th October – after we had left and after all the reds were in and it still only came in at 12% potential alcohol.

In the lap of the (weather) gods…
Measuring the potential alcohol of the grapes was to become something we were to be very familiar with over the coming days. Katie told us that Jean-Marc, despite his calm exterior, was becoming quite agitated; pretty much all the neighbours had already picked and the longer you wait, the greater the possibility of the crop being lost to bad weather – as was to be the fate of some unfortunate producers whose crops were washed away in autumnal downpours, particularly in the Gard.

Fortunately the storms passed us by, but the wind coming in from the Mediterranean was bringing damp mild weather; what was wanted was the north wind – the Tramontagne. As Katie says, it’s likes a great big hair dryer, getting rid of any moisture and allowing the grapes to be picked in optimum conditions. As we were to discover, the potential alcohol in the grapes was not the issue – most were already showing good levels, but Katie and Jean-Marc explained that they were waiting for the grapes to show phenolic ripeness. This means that the grape skins, pips and stem are properly ripe and have lost any bitterness and there is a balance between potential alcohol and acidity/PH levels.

Prélevement – the testing of the grapes for ripeness
We were dispatched into the vines, plastic bags in hand, and given a couple of rows of vines each to get a random sample of grapes to ascertain each vineyard’s readiness for picking. We were told to pass through the vines taking a berry from the top of the bunch, the middle and underneath, then to crush the berries in the bag to get some juice. It was also pointed out to us that tasting the berries and crunching the pips was just as important as any analytical tests. Juice from each bag was poured onto a refractometer to measure the potential alcohol. Next we placed the probe of a PH meter into the juice to measure acidity levels – the higher the reading, the lower the acidity and for Jean-Marc and Katie’s liking, the grapes were still not quite ripe enough. We must wait…

View over the Maury valley

View over the Maury valley

A multi-coloured patchwork of vineyards
Travelling through the vineyards it was remarkable just how different the soils were from one plot to the next, even those in close proximity. Jean-Marc told us later that various studies had confirmed that the geology of the region is particularly interesting in that there is a greater variety of different rocks and soils in a relatively small area than anywhere else in France. The plot of grenache vines we tested first was on lovely red sandy clay soil, yet just a short ride in the truck to look at a plot of carignan, took us to grey-white stony soils.

Most of the vineyards were tiny but there were vines almost as far as the eye could see. We wondered whether it was hard to tell where your grapes ended and another’s started. Katie said that it wasn’t that unusual for vineyard workers to have spent a morning labouring away on a neighbour’s vines by mistake! Telling one variety from another was also a necessary skill and we were given a lesson in identifying grenache and carignan grapes and the curious local clone lladoner pelud, or hairy grenache (because of its spiky leaves) was pointed out to us –a variety much favoured for its small berries and potential for high-quality wine.

The interplay of ‘la chasse’ & ‘la vigne’
Katie also pointed out the unmistakable signs of foraging wild boar – the ground between the vines was completely churned up and there was the odd bunch knocked onto the ground. Katie said that the boar were a real nuisance, destroying a vineyard in no time at all. Perhaps the fact that they hadn’t hoovered up these grapes was another sign that they hadn’t reached optimum ripeness!

A lot of the vineyards we were to visit had electric fences around them to protect them from the boar; they are particularly fond of the sweeter muscat grapes apparently. The countryside is dotted with tall wooden towers from which the hunters take their aim and back in Tuchan the hunting lodge is one of the more imposing buildings at the centre of town. We were there in hunting season when ‘la chasse’ is permitted on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Jean-Marc told us that growing up in Tuchan there were only two pastimes – ‘la chasse’ or rugby. He chose the latter and apparently was rather good in his youth. Luckily for us his father was still actively involved in the former, the spoils of which we were to enjoy on several occasions and in several guises, including the local speciality civet de sanglier, cooked by Jean-Marc’s mother. A sort of boeuf bourguignon of the south which involves marinating the meat overnight in Fitou and cooking it slowly with onions, garlic, carrots and local herbs. Lovely with boiled potatoes or pasta – even in 30°C!

Domaine Jones

‘Project 2015’ – the old train shed

Project 2015
Before heading back to the winery Katie took us to see Domaine Jones’ latest acquisition. Having grown out of The Vatican (the 200 year-old stone building Katie bought in the Rue de Vatican), Katie and Jean-Marc have been making wine in the hangar adjoining their house and now just use The Vatican for storage. But Katie has had her eye on the old train shed in the village for some time, so when an opportunity came to buy it they put in a bid. The stone building dates back to 1905 and was part of the Tuchan terminus building and now represents a huge renovation job for Katie and Jean-Marc if they’re to have it up and running for next year’s vintage. It comes complete with its own well (presumably for the steam trains which used to carry the grapes down to Perpignan before decent roads were built) and has a bit of land for potential accommodation. Katie says you really need to live above the shop when you’re making wine and we were soon to appreciate why.

More tomorrow!

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

You can find wines currently listed by Domaine Jones here

Categories : France, South of France
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Richard Mayson

Richard Mayson

When wine writer Richard Mayson took the brave decision to set up his own vineyard, naturally it made sense to document his experiences.

This Richard did for us in SocietyNews a couple of years ago and now he has written an extended version of his travails for The World of Fine Wine magazine. It was this series of articles which recently earned him the accolade of Wine Feature Writer of the Year in the Louis Roederer Wine Writers’ Awards, as reported earlier.

You can read it here.

Newer members will perhaps know Richard better for his wines made at the Quinta do Centro in Portugal’s Alentejo region, but Richard has also supplied us with fine writing for much of his career and has hosted many tastings for members too.

His knowledge of Portugal and its wines is second to none and he has had several books published on this subject. But early on in his career, Richard came to work at The Wine Society and this period in his life is covered in the first in the series of articles entitled ‘Living the dream’. Richard talks about how he first fell in love with Portugal, where the idea for having his own estate started and how he went about realising his dream.

World of Fine WineJoanna Goodman
News Editor

We reproduce the article on our website for members to enjoy and have also negotiated a special subscription price to The World of Fine Wine magazine for those members who enjoy fine writing as much as they do fine wine.

The World of Fine Wine publishes quarterly — in March, June, September and December. Each lavishly illustrated 216-page edition is produced to the highest standards on heavy coated paper and bound like a fine paperback book.

We are able to offer members an annual subscription to the magazine at a special price of £75 instead of £89. Find out more and subscribe online at The World of Fine Wine‘s website or call 01795 414 681 quoting code FWTRADE1

Categories : Portugal
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Tue 04 Nov 2014

A Banger Of A Week: Wines For Sausages

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This week not only sees the arrival of bonfire night and the associated firework parties but also British Sausage Week, so bangers seem sure to feature in some form.

SausageMatching food with wine has long been a passion of mine, and when the food in question is one of my favourites I tend to go into overdrive. As such, here are my choices for sausage-and-wine matching:

These perfect parcels of pleasure offer a plethora of styles from around the world that reflect not only the culture but also the history of a region. This coupled with choice of meat, herbs and spices (and even fruit in some cases) all contributes to posing a problem I am only too happy to try and solve.

Any wine choice for sausages, I feel, must have a generosity of fruit but balanced with enough freshness and acidity to cut through the fat.

Lovers of good British bangers and mash or toad in the hole should look to the southern Rhône or just below, in the south of France. Jaboulet’s Ventoux Les Traverses (£7.95) from the former seems a natural choice, as well as Fitou Origines, Domaine Bertrand-Berge 2012 (£8.50) from the latter.

Theses wine can also handle spicier sausages, such as chorizo; for a more local match, however, a Spanish garnacha will work well. Malabarista (£6.25), which tempers the cherry-like fruit of the grape with Rioja’s tempranillo variety, is bold and toasty, and its sweet fruit works wonders at tempering spicy flavours. Argentine red and meat are of course natural bedfellows, and the robust but fresh Faldeos Nevados Malbec 2013 (£8.95) would also work well.

Lovers of lighter reds will also find some fine matches in the form of Beaujolais, whose fruity acidity is surprisingly adept at dealing with spice. For a case in point, try Beaujolais-Villages, Château de Lacarelle 2013 (£7.95).

It may be little surprise that a fennel-infused Italian sausage works well with many an Italian red. My personal choice, however, is a wine featuring an Italian grape but from Australia. Route du Van Victoria Dolcetto-Shiraz 2012 (£10.95) blends Italy’s dolcetto with spicy shiraz, and the combination works perfectly.

Venison sausages, my favourite, not only work with a good Northern Rhône (Nicolas Perrin’s Syrah-Viognier [£8.95] is a good bet), but also a richer pinot noir. Wither Hills’ durable and delicious example (£10.50) was a Society Wine Champion and offers a fine match.

Red wine need not be the only option, however. The affinity pork has with riesling makes for a superb match for frankfurters or bratwurst. Josef Schmidt’s Trittenheimer Apotheke Kabinett (£9.50) springs to mind, as does Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2013 (£6.95). Both offer a touch of sweetness to complement the pork, but not enough so as to overwhelm it.

To continue the touch of sweetness theme, I have also found Normandy Cidre (£4.95) to work very well with sausage casserole – especially when using sausages with a touch of fruit, such as apricots or apples.

I know I have only touched the tip of the sausage iceberg; but I hope these are enough to think about, and that your week goes with a bang.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
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