Grapevine Archive for 2014

Michael Brajkovich MW is one of the most talented, and modest, winemakers in the world today.

Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his Kumeu River chardonnays, and couldn’t resist asking how he felt about them trouncing a clutch of eye-wateringly expensive white Burgundies in a blind tasting last year. This is not the first time Michael’s Auckland chardonnays have performed such a feat, and the sort of result that, were I a winemaker, would probably see me running delirious laps around my barrel hall.

‘Whenever we’ve put our wines against some top white Burgundies, we’ve been very happy just to be on the same page,’ Michael replies. ‘We’re happy to be considered at the same kind of level because we’re considerably cheaper; and when the results come through and we’ve done very well… it’s really nice!’

Michael Brajkovich MW in The Wine Society's tasting room

Michael Brajkovich MW in The Wine Society’s tasting room

‘But it’s not the main reason we do it,’ he hastens to add. ‘We’re here to say ‘hey – here’s something that’s not exactly the same, because it’s from a different terroir, a different country – but the quality level is comparable, the style is comparable, and we are better value.’’

Kumeu River’s new 2014 wines,  have recently been released in our current New Zealand offer, provide a further testament to the outstanding quality and deserved following the Brajkovich family’s wines have achieved.

‘Everything went perfectly in 2014. There was no rot, harvesting was easy, the fruit was in perfect condition and as the juices went through fermentation, we thought to ourselves, ‘this is something pretty special.’ It was pretty much a perfect-weather vintage leading right up to the end of it. It’s a generous, richer, more giving vintage than 2013. And they’re actually really good early on.’

He’s not wrong. The 2014s are truly world-class chardonnays, imbued with approachable richness and delicate refreshing balance throughout the Kumeu River portfolio.

But not quite everything went perfectly, Michael chuckled. Their top plot, Mate’s Vineyard, which is the last to be picked, became the subject of a scramble to get the grapes in before a tropical cyclone threatened to destroy the crop before it could be harvested.

'It really is our grand cru.' Mate's Vineyard.

‘It really is our grand cru.’ Mate’s Vineyard.

All whilst entertaining the visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister – and their local MP – John Key, and the Croatian Prime Minister, who was visiting at the time!

Thankfully the grapes were harvested – and the Prime Ministers entertained – and the fruit reached the winery in perfect condition. ‘It was during the fermentation we realised how good it was. Ok, so it was picked a few days earlier than we’d have liked but it didn’t make any difference: the vineyard matters more than the few days. It’s one of our oldest vineyards. It’s quite low-yielding, even in terms of this bumper crop, and the wine is fabulous. It really is our grand cru.’

Enter stage left: The Society’s Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, and buyer for New Zealand, Sarah Knowles MW, who visited Kumeu a couple of months later.

You can read Tim’s account of the visit here; but having tasted the 2014s in barrel, Sarah instantly began negotiating an increase in The Society’s allocation.

Kumeu River are, of course, also the source of our Society’s Exhibition Chardonnay (£13.50). This exclusive single-vineyard wine has long been popular with members, but the 2014 vintage offers something particularly special. Having picked up the Best New Zealand Chardonnay Under £15 Trophy at both the Decanter and International Wine Challenge awards, the wine offers further delicious proof of 2014’s quality here. The below video from our archive shows Michael talking about this wine, and sums up both the wine and his outlook on winemaking very well.

Kumeu River’s 2014s are available now in our current New Zealand offer. Despite securing a good allocation of these wines, supply is still limited so please don’t delay in ordering these special wines to avoid disappointment!

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : New Zealand
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Tue 21 Jun 2016

A Celebration of Alsace Riesling

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Millésimes Alsace 2016, an international trade event in Colmar, was only the third of its kind – and a first for me. Superbly organised, if discreetly promoted (whilst there was a strong turnout of UK press, members of the UK trade were few and far between), this is certainly one I will aim to attend again in 2018, and with more time to take full advantage of the additional events on the days before and after.

The event showcased Alsace’s premium wines. Most were grand cru or lieu-dit (single-vineyard) wines, many were rieslings, and from the 2014 vintage which was so good for this wonderfully terroir-expressive grape (see for yourself in our new offer of Alsace wines, the fruits of a trip with my colleague & Alsace aficionado Marcel Orford-Williams back in February).

Millesimes Alsace 2016

This was certainly the most democratic wine show I have ever attended. One large room, the same modestly sized tables for all, no posters, banners or other eye candy, with wines poured by the winemakers and vignerons themselves. Where else would you find co-op wines, in this case from the Cave de Turckheim (and very good they were too), sandwiched happily between two of the iconic names of the region: Trimbach and Domaine Weinbach?

The weather was unseasonably wet, but there’s no getting away from the picturesque beauty of this region. Day two of the event was made up of visits to, and tastings of, some of Alsace’s finest grands crus. Other diary commitments meant I could not take full advantage of this opportunity and I had to leave a fascinating presentation on the geology of the region in the Goldert vineyard.


The vineyard lies just outside the village of Gueberschwihr and from above the village we just spotted the local tourist train (known affectionately as the TGV!) which runs along the wine route twice a week from Eguisheim, and generally requires reservation in advance (though few had been brave enough on this wet & misty day). That bit at least is open to non-trade, and with air access to the region so easy via Strasbourg or Basel-Mulhouse, or by car or real TGV of course, it’s no wonder they receive so many visitors from the UK.


And for a break from wine? Colmar’s extended and refurbished Unter Linden Museum comes highly recommended, and Easy Jet’s current in-flight magazine sings the praises of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Our offer of the 2014 Alsace vintage is available now.

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Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.

Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.

I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.

Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.

However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.

Viognier vineyards in Condrieu

Viognier vineyards in Condrieu

There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.

Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s.

Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:

Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.

Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!

Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.

Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.

Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.

Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.

So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : France, Rhône
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Thu 26 May 2016

Cairanne: The Birth of a Rhône Cru

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Once upon a time, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel were the only two named ‘crus’ of the southern Rhône.

But of course it is the ambition of every village to aspire to cru status.

Making it happen can be a long process and has to involve a Paris-based body called INAO which stands for the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. It alone can decree that Brie de Meaux can be called Brie de Meaux or that Chambertin can be called Chambertin.

In the case of Cairanne, that process seemed interminable.

Cairanne: 'a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.'

Cairanne: ‘a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.’

The case for Cru Cairanne began when the appellations were first created back in the 1930s. Growers then were far-seeing, and even then had begun by insisting on low yields and that only a certain number of grape varieties could be used.

There were geological surveys, an infinite number of tastings and meetings, and plenty of politics and negotiations to determine which could be crus and which vineyards couldn’t.

What makes a good Cairanne?
With a majority of grenache in the blend, Cairanne is never going to be anything less than a full-bodied, generous wine with a certain fruity charm and tannins that should always be well integrated and soft.

The upshot is that Cairanne is now the 17th cru of the Côtes-du-Rhône, joining the likes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage; and it applies to both red and white wine though red is by far the more important.

As far as we are concerned, it means that from the 2015 vintage just ‘Cairanne’ need appear on the label. Goodbye ‘Côtes-du-Rhône Villages’!

Quality won’t change that much as most growers have been making such brilliant wine anyway. Yields are a little lower which will mean that the wines should have more substance and greater concentration.

Cairanne itself is a delightful place to visit. It’s an old village, typically laid out, Provence style, on a hill with a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.

These days there are some good places to eat with the choice possibly headed by the Tourne au Verre. This is very central and has an excellent wine list with most if not all Cairanne producers represented. The food is good and simple, and one can eat outside in the summer.

Cairanne vines

The 2015 vintage is looking very promising, and some of the wines will soon be in bottle.

As for the 2016 vintage, flowering is still a little way off but so far so good…

So, roll on Cairanne, the Rhône’s newest cru!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

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Our Wine World & News section now features a new series, Ferment: The 15-Minute Interview.

Below is one of the recent additions, from one of the Rhône’s brightest winemaking talents, Richard Maby of Domaine Maby.

Richard Maby Domaine MabyThe Wine Society has championed the wines of Domaine Maby for almost 40 years. Situated in Lirac, across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the soil here is also scattered with the famous ‘galets’ or pudding stones that litter the vineyards of its better-known neighbour.

The property has vineyards in the Lirac, Tavel and Côtes-du-Rhône appellations and the wines, in red, white and rosé, feature regularly on our Lists and en primeur offers and continue to offer excellent value for money.

Richard Maby took over the running of the estate from his father in 2005, re-energising the business and taking it to new heights, together with his wife Natasha.

Before returning to take up the role of vigneron, Richard worked in the French Stock Exchange in Paris. Alongside wine, Richard is also a lover of opera, as members may have gathered from the names of some of his cuvées (Nessun Dorma, Cast Diva, Prima Donna)!

1. When did you know that you wanted to work in the family business?
I always knew that I would work in the family business. I just needed to wait for my father to retire!

2. What’s the most memorable bottle you’ve drunk?
Cheval Blanc 1964, the same age as me!

3. Do you swap wine with other producers? If so with whom?
I swap wine regularly with other producers and especially with very good and friendly producers like Gilles Ferand and Marcel Richaud.

4. Your cellar is about to be flooded. What bottle would you save?
Some bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti that I bought went I worked for the Stock Exchange.

5. Who would you most like to share a bottle with?
With my wife, as I do almost every evening!

6. If you could travel back in time and redo one vintage which one would it be?
2005, because it was a wonderful vintage and my first one. I think that if I would manage it as I do today, the wines would be extraordinary.

8. If your winemaking philosophy could be described in three words what would they be?
Respect of the terroir, respect of the grapes, respect of the wine

9. What is your most memorable food and wine match?
Escalope of foie gras with oranges and a three year-old Tavel Prima Donna.

10. What would be your desert-island wine?
Château Rayas (Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

11. If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be?
I suppose I would still work for the Stock Exchange…

12. If you could only work with one grape variety, what would it be and why?

Browse for wines from Domaine Maby

The 2014 vintage of Richard’s Lirac ‘Nessun Dorma’ is also available in our current Rhône en primeur offer.

Categories : France, Rhône
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I visited the Rhône recently for a week to begin tasting the 2014s, taking in the northern whites in particular.

Growers were in the middle of picking the 2015 fruit and cellars were busy. Wellington boots were much in evidence, essential footwear for cellar work during this time. It is often said that to make wine you need to use a lot of water. Very true. After a busy day everything gets hosed down from floors, tanks and wine presses; everything needs to be spotless for the next truckload of grapes. Good hygiene is every bit as important as the quality of the grapes.

André Perret, Condrieu

André Perret, Condrieu

Distances are not much of an issue so going from one cellar to the other: around six or seven in a day is quite possible. The first two days centred on the two small towns of Ampuis and Condrieu. Such is their proximity and fragmented ownership of vineyard, that most growers make wines from at least two appellations and often three.

First was Christophe Pichon, who has clearly benefited from having sent his son to make wine in Australia. New ideas such as sulphur-free vinification have given this estate a real boost. Theyhave made lovely 2014s, especially the Condrieu which I thought was one of the best.

The next two meetings were up the hill, on the plateau were temperatures in winter can be significantly lower than down in the valley and were wines often age just a little more slowly. Emmanuel Barou was delighted with 2014, as he was with 2015 which he was still picking. For once, his yields were normal. ‘My banker will be pleased,’ he said. So will members, because both his Condrieu and Viognier vin de Pays are clearly outstanding.



Highlights in the afternoon continued with Côte-Rôtie from two top estates: Domaines Duclaux and Barge. Gorgeous reds from both. I’ll try to encapsulate the style of 2014 a little later, save to say that this is a vintage for pleasure.

There was more from Condrieu the following day, from three iconic growers, François Villard, André Perret and Robert Niéro. All made delicious whites and these will be available to members in the January en primeur offer.

And so the tour progressed, ending up in Saint-Péray and Cornas, a couple of days after the great Noël Verset had been laid to rest. In some ways the best was served up last. This was a visit to Domaine de Tunnel and for the first time actually visiting the tunnel which Stephanne bought several years ago. In fact his interest then were fore the old marsanne vines that happened to grow on top of a disused railway tunnel. The railway closed in 1930 and so the tunnel came cheap. A couple of years ago, Stephanne took the plunge and built a new cellar within the tunnel. I thought his were among the classiest tasted during the week, both white and red.

I go back to the Rhône in a fortnight and undoubtedly will have more so to say on both the 2015 and 2014 vintages.

But there already things that can be said about 2014:



Firstly, it is clearly exceptional for whites from all grape varieties. In some ways the whites are similar to 2013. There is the same precision, freshness and grip but with a little more roundness and flesh. These are really winning wines that will give pleasure early. For fine drinking next summer, the 2014 Condrieus will be outstanding.

The reds too are delicious. There the accent is on fruit and charm. The wines have plenty of colour and vibrancy and have sweet-tasting tannins. I was very pleased by the way the 2013s are turning out but the best of these will need keeping a while. The 2014s will be more immediate and give pleasure much sooner.

One always tries to talk vintage comparison with growers but such discussion seems to get harder as every vintage seems so different to anything that might have happened before. And so it is the case with 2014, where there was enough heat to ripen the grapes. Spring had been especially hot and summer relatively cool and sometimes wet.

And then there was the unwelcome visit of Drosophila Suzukii, a pesty little fruit fly with a predilection for ripe, healthy black grapes. So growers spent agonising extra hours in the vineyard, getting rid of affected bunches, even berries. Hard work often pays and it has done so in this 2014 vintage.

Wines of the week?
Condrieu from Domaine Pichon and Saint-Péray from Domaine de Tunnel for the whites. As for the reds, Cornas Vieilles Vignes from Domaine Voge.

And I can’t wait to get back.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

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Wed 02 Sep 2015

Rekindling My Love For German Wine: Part 2

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The second of Yvonne Blandford’s dispatches from Germany, where she accompanied Sebastian Payne MW on his buying trip to select wines for our current Germany 2014 offer.
You can read part one here.

JJ Prüm

Katharina outside the JJ Prüm winery.

Katharina outside the JJ Prüm winery.

Our first visit on Tuesday was to this celebrated winery on the banks of the Mosel near Bernkastel. We met with Katharina, daughter of the owner, Dr Manfred Prüm.

Katharina’s verdict on the 2014 vintage was similar to that of the other producers we met – it was a tricky vintage. It seems that the results are very dependent upon when one harvested, as there was considerable rain in September. Katharina was excited about what she termed as the return to a ‘classic Mosel vintage’, whereby the wines need to be given time to develop and they reflect a ripeness of acidity. For this reason, Katharina generally releases her wines late – we currently have two lovely older vintages – the 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese and 2010 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese – available to buy (both £24).

From here we travelled along and across the Mosel to Kues on the opposite bank to Bernkastel.

Dr Thanisch
The vineyard of Berncasteler DoctorWe were greeted by Monika Sartoris, as the owner, Sofia Thanisch, was away on a business trip. Their villa is located in a stunning position overlooking the Mosel and famous ‘Doctor’ vineyard.

Here I discovered an idiosyncracy of the German language. So far, I have always seen ‘Bernkastel’ written with a ‘k’ in the middle and ‘Doktor’ likewise. However, their Berncasteler Doctor wines are written with a ‘c’, which harps back to the previous century when they were written in the English way. As the wine was registered as a trademark at that time, they continue to differentiate it from their other wines to this day.

Schloss Lieser
Next we moved onto Lieser to meet Thomas Haag at his estate. Thomas has recently been awarded ‘Winemaker of the Year for 2015’ by the publication Gault & Millau. Thomas’ property is less traditional than most of the other producers , with the modern tasting room more akin to a bistro/restaurant than the historic halls, and castles we had visited previously. In particular, his wine labels were a breath of fresh air, as they were uncluttered and distinct, although some contain the Schloss Lieser coat of arms.

His wines were very fresh but with an almost salty, mineral flavour, which is a characteristic of Thomas’ style of terroir. Two of his wines – Riesling Kabinett Dry 2014 (£12.50) and Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese (£16) – feature in the Germany 2014 offer.

German wine labels
Vines descending down to the MoselThe origins of German wine names date back to the middle ages and are often linked to important aspects of life at that time, such as religion (Papst – ‘Pope’), nature (Vogelsang – ‘bird song’) or professions (Apotheke – ‘Pharmacy’). Indeed, even today a large percentage of the vineyards in this region are still owned by the church.

As so many producers have heritages dating back many hundreds of years, they naturally want to depict this history within their wine labels. So they often incorporate a Gothic font and coats of arms, as well as quite traditional names (which are long due to German language). The label can evoke a military feel, can be quite confusing for the would-be buyer to understand and are not necessarily clear as to how dry/sweet the wine will be. Often there is a sweetness code/grading on the back label, however.

I was pleased to see a new label by the son of Carl von Schubert and those from Thomas Haag which are much cleaner and clearer than typical German labels.

Neck labels came about in the late 1900s, I was told, by Christian Vogt at Karthäuserhof. At this time it was common practice to chill wines in the rivers/streams/lakes of estates during hunting/shooting parties. (Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhoberg used to be one of the longest names and had the smallest labels.) After a few hours of chilling, the bottle labels often came off due to being immersed in the water and the identity of the wines was no longer known. So, neck labels were born, as the water level enabled them to stay intact, so the guests still knew which wine was which.

To find out more about wines from this region, the importance of riesling and classification of German wines by sugar levels, visit our How to Buy Germany Guide.

Willi Haag
The last appointment on our tour was at the home of Willi Haag, where we received another warm greeting by his family, who have been based in the village of Brauneberg since 1500.

Willi told us about the Flurbereinigung which is taking place gradually across all vineyards in this region. It aims to consolidate the plots owned by individual winemakers and to make them more accessible and hopefully safer than before. Previously the Haag estate had 50 plots spread across the Mosel region, but now that has been reduced to eight, which is easier to manage.

We finished our tasting trip with a sip of a superb Auslese and Beerenauslese from the 2010 and 2011 vintages. It was like tasting pure nectar – an exquisite, aromatic encounter with wines that will keep for many years to come! A Kabinett wine from Willi Haag features in the Germany offer – Brauneberger Juffer (£10.95).

Overall impressions
The lasting impressions I will take away from my first trip with a buyer are as follows:

• Sebastian Payne MW’s ability to know how a wine will open up and taste in a few months’ time and his meticulous attention to detail when comparing the different tastings of a wine
• The importance of climate and the harvest start date on the livelihood of producers
• The friendly welcome we received from all producers, irrespective of the size or status of their estates
• The steepness of the vineyards and the dangers of hand harvesting the grapes
• The high quality of German wine which is flavoursome, diverse and covers a spectrum of sweetness levels, as well as being low in alcohol – and how it offers such extremely good value for money
• Sebastian’s passion for his role and for only selecting wines that he is confident that members will buy and that they will enjoy.

Yvonne Blandford
Marketing Campaigns Manager

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Tue 01 Sep 2015

Rekindling My Love For German Wine

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Campaign manager and wine student Yvonne Blandford accompanies buyer Sebastian Payne MW around the vineyards of the Mosel and, amongst the steep vineyards, steely rieslings and gothic scripts, rediscovers her love of German wine…

The Mosel valley

The Mosel valley

I have worked for The Society for just over two years in the Marketing department. Many moons ago I lived and worked in Germany where I first fell for the wine, although these were the bad old days when all German wine meant to most of the UK market was sugary Liebfraumilch and Black Tower.

So it was a great privilege to be given the chance to join Sebastian Payne MW earlier this year on his buying trip to Germany and having recently passed the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 exam, it offered me the chance to rekindle my love for German wine and hone my skills by watching a master at work.

Day One
As we set off from Frankfurt-Hahn airport in the direction of the Mosel valley, Sebastian explained about the region and producers we would be visiting over the next two days.

The purpose of our visit was to make the final selection of wines to feature in the 2014 Germany offer. Sebastian had already tasted many of the wines at the ProWein exhibition in Düsseldorf earlier this year and he wanted to assess how they had developed in the interim.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

The first stop on our whistle-stop tour was Schloss Marienlay to taste wines from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. Here we were joined by Bernd Weber, who has assisted Sebastian for several years by seeking out opportunities in Germany. After being warmly greeted by Annegret Reh-Gartner and her husband, Gerhard – Sebastian, Annegret and Wolfgang Mertes, their chief winemaker, worked their way through a line of wines.

This was my first experience of witnessing the close relationship Sebastian has established over the years with the producers and the high level of respect they have for him. I observed how Sebastian tasted each wine, meticulously writing notes on each and then referring back in his book to the notes he made on that wine at ProWein to see how they had ‘opened up’.

The von Kesselstatt winery has extensive plots in the three main areas of this important wine-growing region of Germany. Vineyards occupy much of the slopes adjoining the Mosel, Ruwer (pronounced ‘roover’) and Saar rivers and von Kesselstatt own approximately 36 hectares in total.

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

Schloss Marienlay is located near Morscheid on the banks of the Ruwer. Annegret kindly explained the importance of the slate soil in these regions and how they vary in colour from red, blue and grey ‘Devon’ slate. The slate ensures that the soil does not become ‘claggy’, as the rain drains off of it. At the same time the vines do not grow too rigorously and the warmth from the sun is reflected back into the soil. I was interested to see they have a little display in their tasting room that features examples of the three slates with descriptions of the different vineyards and how the slate affects the taste of the wines.

Their Josephshöfer wines emanate from the grey slate Graach vineyard, whereas the Scharzhofberger vines are planted in red Devon slate – von Kesselstatt’s Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett (£9.50), Josephshöfer Kabinett (£12.95) and Scharzhofberger Kabinett (£16.50) feature in the Germany offer.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slope.

After a buffet lunch, which was much needed after our crack-of-dawn start, we were on our way. As we travelled through the valley to our next appointment, I was staggered to see how steep the vineyards are.

Value for money
The vineyards in this region are predominantly built on the hillsides rising up from the three rivers. Gradients of 80° are not uncommon which makes machine harvesting of the grapes virtually impossible. The producers all employ large numbers of pickers in the autumn, who have the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.

I did see a few metal ‘chair lifts’ at the bottom of slopes that Sebastian advised were used to ascend and support pickers on the steepest gradients, but the majority of harvesting appears to be done by sure-footed workers from eastern Europe.

Taking this hand-harvesting method into account, which must be fraught with danger, it seems to me that German wines are actually very good value for money when compared with other wines grown in flat vineyards around Europe.

Maximin Grünhaus, Mertesdorf
We were met by Dr Carl von Schubert, whose family bought the estate in the 19th century and has lived here ever since. The estate lies at the foot of a long steep south-facing slope on the left bank of the Ruwer river, about 2km from where it joins the Mosel. It is divided into three separate, but adjoining vineyards: Abtsberg, Herrenberg and Bruderberg.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background

The Abtsberg wines are grown in the plots nearest to the estate property and have an individual mineral flavour – the Kabinett (£14.95) and Spätlese (£17.50) are both featured in the Germany 2014 offer.

Carl kindly gave us a tour of his cellars where barrels are manufactured from the oak trees on his land and which store their riesling, pinot blanc and pinot noir wines. The lower levels of the cellars are so old that black mould covers the walls, roof and barrels – formed from the high humidity of 80-95% which is fed by the volatile acidity, alcohol, etc. that originates from the yeast. The mould is an excellent regulator of the humidity in the air and takes decades to form in this way. I didn’t find this particularly pleasant to touch, but it is something that makes them the envy of many producers, (or so I’m told!).

Herr von Schubert was an interesting man who recounted humorous anecdotes of family weddings on his estate (he has a number of children of marrying age!) and his attempts to prevent wild boar from destroying the vines – 68 were shot last year alone in this region! These shooting parties have enabled Carl to diversify into selling produce like wild boar paté, so it is a win-win situation for him!

Karthäuserhof, Trier-Eitelsbach
Karthaeuserhof Our last appointment of the day was to Karthäuserhof where we were greeted by Christian Vogt, chief winemaker. Like Maximin Grünhaus, all their vines are grown in the vineyards surrounding their estate, which is quite unusual for the region, rather than owning a mixture of plots dotted around various vineyards.

We were taken to the historic tasting room of this picturesque villa, which was surrounded by beautiful wisteria in full bloom in the warm May sunshine.

As Sebastian methodically tasted the wines and compared them to his earlier tasting at ProWein, Christian explained the history of the tasting room to me. It dates back to 1895 when the great grandfather of the current owner had to convince the father of his future bride that he was worthy of her hand in marriage. He had everything produced for the room including three marble wall displays by Villeroy & Boch of local scenes including Trier and Cochem.

Karthaeuserhof's tasting room dates back to 1895.

Karthaeuserhof’s tasting room dates back to 1895

Over dinner that evening in the ancient Roman city of Trier, Sebastian, Bernd and I talked about how hard these producers have to work to maintain their businesses. Many travel frequently to all corners of the world in an attempt to get restaurants, hotels and wine merchants to list their wines. What had become very apparent to me in the few hours I had spent in the wine region, was the importance of climate on the producers’ livelihoods and that within the space of a few hours/days their whole year’s work can be ruined if it rains too much or if there’s a hail storm. The crucial decision as to when to start harvesting is an extremely hard one to make and again can have catastrophic or tremendous results. I now begin to understand the high numbers of suicides that take place within the wine growing industry.

Yvonne Blandford
Marketing Campaign Manager

• Yvonne’s dispatch on Day Two will feature JJ Prüm, Dr Thanisch, Schloss Lieser and Willi Haag, as well as some useful information on Germany’s oft-tricky wine labels. Look out for it on Society Grapevine tomorrow…

• The fruits of this trip can be found in our Germany 2014 offering.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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MarlboroughTo coincide with our British heatwave, I am off in search of winter sauvignon blanc!

The irony that New Zealand’s summery staple is ready to taste and select in July – the middle of New Zealand’s winter – is not lost on me: while you may all be enjoying the 2014 sauvignons in the garden, at a picnic, on a terrace or balcony in the sunshine, I will be selecting next year’s gems by a fireplace, in my thermals Down Under.

Either way, enjoy the summer and sauvignon. The early reports on quality of the 2015s look great, although in smaller quantities than we would all like, so drink assured that I am chalking up the best tanks for next summer’s heatwave in anticipation.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer

Find Sarah’s pick of the 2014 Marlborough sauvignons in our current New Zealand offer.

Categories : New Zealand
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A couple of weeks ago two of the Rhône’ iconic figures came to London.

In the evening Philippe Guigal made his first appearance at a Society event, showing his wines over dinner to a hundred members assembled at the Bleeding Heart restaurant near Farringdon.

Famille Guigal

Famille Guigal

When The Society first began buying from Guigal, that company was most clearly associated with Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, and little else. But the intervening years has seen the business expand hugely.

There were corporate acquisitions that brought in valuable new vineyards, not only on Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu but also on Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. Fabulous new cellars were built in Ampuis allowing for further expansion. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône (£9.95), for example has become an important wine and The Society is very pleased indeed to be among the many stockists of this impeccable wine.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart

For the dinner, Guigal opened the evening with the viognier-based 2013 white which we will welcome to our range very shortly. That was before a lovely bottle of 2012 Saint-Joseph Blanc and their exceptional 2011 Saint-Joseph Rouge (£19). At the heart of the tasting, the 2008 vintage was tasted across the Côte-Rôtie range. The vintage is now fully ready and a joy to sip, perfect with dishes on show (we still have some stock of the 2008 La Turque at £134). Philippe was engaging and eloquent and this will not be his last visit to The Wine Society.

Earlier in day, I attended a masterclass in London: a tasting of the 2014 vintage with Michel Chapoutier in the chair. This was my first real chance to taste some top wines from this vintage. Not the easiest of vintages, 2014 had started with a warm, dry spring but then suffered a cool summer which delayed ripening before fine weather returned in September.

The whites, picked in early September were brilliant and it is clear that 2014 will be a great vintage for white Rhônes. This was really the result of the cool summer which meant that acidities were preserved rather than burnt away. Harvesting the reds later in September and through to October was trickier as the warm September was not without rain. The steep slopes of Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are of course well placed to cope with sudden heavy rains as the water naturally drains away easily.

The Chapoutier wines are brilliant: very dark in colour, fragrant and very fine with elegant tannins and nicely etched fruit flavours. I shall now look forward to my next trip to the Rhône in November.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Rhône
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