Thursday, October 31, 2013

What do US microbreweries have in common with UK "indie" wine retailers?

Of the many disputes in which I find myself over the state of the wine world, many come down to the difference between the view from my window and the view the other person sees when they look out of theirs. I say, for instance, that most people aren't very interested in wine, or - in the UK at least - ready to pay very much for it, and the other person responds that he or she is daily surrounded by masses of enthusiasts eager to hand over their £20 notes. (Ok, I'm exaggerating for effect here, but you know what I mean).

And often, of course, we're both right. The view from my window includes lots of boring-but-true statistics; the view from his includes handfuls of £20 notes.

To illustrate how we can both be right, let's shift away from wine for a moment and look at the craft beer movement in the US. By any standards, this is a remarkable success story. From near extinction in 1979, the number of breweries has grown to nearly 3,000.
More recent statistics put the number at closer to 2,400

According to the US Brewers Association statistics I've reprinted below, the sector is continuing to grow - at over 15% pa, is worth over $10bn in retail sales and employs over 100,000 people.

This is all very exciting, but to put it into context, craft beers still only represent 6.5% of US beer sales. This may well continue to grow, but will it exceed 10%? I happen to love interesting beer and applaud this explosion in the number of US breweries that produce it (the British market share is still only around 2%), but looking through my window, I cannot ignore the fact that over 9 in ten glasses of beer are not full of craft beer. And that figure is not likely to change radically in the next few years.

It's possible to thrive in niches; those 2,000+ craft breweries may be very profitable - or at least some of them will be, especially the half that sell their brews over the bar. But craft beer is still a niche. Like "serious" wine. And to overestimate its importance to the mass of consumers makes no more sense than to overestimate the influence a minority political party may have on the way a country is run.

In Britain, this is particularly relevant to some of the overly enthusiastic talk about UK "independent" retailers, a part of the market whose influence is probably remarkably similar to US craft brewers on the other side of the water.


Craft Brewing Facts

  • Craft brewers currently provide an estimated 108,440 jobs in the U.S., including serving staff in brewpubs.
  • Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2012 was 15% by volume and 17% by dollars compared to growth in 2011 of 13% by volume and 15% by dollars.
  • Craft brewers sold an estimated 13,235,917 barrels* of beer in 2012, up from 11,467,337 in 2011.
  • The craft brewing sales share in 2012 was 6.5% by volume and 10.2% by dollars.
  • Craft brewer retail dollar value in 2012 was an estimated $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011.
  • As of March 18, 2013, the Brewers Association is aware of 409 brewery openings in 2012 (310 microbreweries and 99 brewpubs) and 43 brewery closings (18 microbreweries and 25 brewpubs).
  • 2,347 craft breweries operated for some or all of 2012, comprised of 1,132 brewpubs, 1,118 microbreweries and 97 regional craft breweries.

Other U.S. Brewing Industry Facts

  • Overall U.S. beer sales were up an estimated 0.9% by volume in 2012.
  • Imported beer sales were up 1% in 2012 and up 1% in 2011.
  • Overall U.S. beer sales were approximately 200,028,520 barrels and imported beer sales were 27,712,665 barrels in 2012.
  • 2,403 total breweries operated for some or all of 2012, the highest total since the 1880s.
* 1 barrel = 31 US gallons
Last updated on 3/18/2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A personal view from the Digital Wine Communications Conference

On my way to the Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Rioja, and noticing the reactions to the responses I recently gave to Jamie Goode’s manifesto, I thought it might be worth explaining why my views are so at odds with Jamie’s, and those of a lot of other wine communicators. Some people I’m sure, imagine that I’m simply a naturally negative or pessimistic person. Tim Atkin dubbed me the “Cassandra of the wine world” a long time ago. Others probably think of me as being naturally argumentative: unable to read or hear anything without wanting to offer an alternative, opposing view. And then there are those who, like US Democrats listening to a Tea Party stalwart, reckon that I’m just jam-packed with stupid, downright wrong ideas and more than likely in the pockets of big business.

There may, I guess, be small elements of truth in some of these. I’m actually far from naturally pessimistic, but I’d plead guilty of valuing realistic optimism over wishful thinking. Anyone who knows my history will know just how many new – and at the time, dare I say, often courageous - things I’ve been involved with. Wine International magazine – was an attempt to create a groundbreaking publication that would appeal to non-enthusiasts and the women who were increasingly buying wine in the 1980s when we launched. I ran wine competitions in the UK and countries ranging from Russia and Poland and China, India and Vietnam where the very idea was totally revolutionary. I wrote lots of books and even published one myself for a supermarket. I set up a now defunct online wine school, way back in 1995, and around a decade later started Hugh, Kevin & Robert wines and a research and consultancy company called DoILikeIt?. And most recently there’s Winestars World and Great Food & Wine Sites… All of these have required a fairly large dose of optimism. Some have worked well; some haven’t, but they’ve all taught me that recognizing the reality of a situation increases one’s chances of success.

We tried 101 ways to make a success of Wine International, ranging from putting pretty girls on the cover to giving it away to credit card holders and Readers Digest readers and selling it cheaply to The Wine Society and wine club members. Over 23 years, we commissioned great writing (and won awards) and tried going up- and down-market. We looked at Bordeaux en primeur – and the cheapest wines in the high street. None of these worked. The magazine never made money, and it only survived as long as it did thanks to the success of the International Wine Challenge. Wine communicators bang on about how people “want stories”. We filled our pages with stories every month, and the only issue that always reliably sold well was the most boring and story-free effort of the year: the IWC Results mag. I tried telling stories in the column I had for 14 years in the Sunday Telegraph – and was regularly – and I now believe correctly – told by my editor to focus on best buys in the supermarkets.

The wine encyclopedia I personally put together for Tesco on a first generation Apple Mac – in response to the one Oz Clarke’s publishers produced for Sainsbury – also won some nice awards, and is still available, in an updated form and under a new title.  We printed 35.000 copies and offered them to the supermarket shoppers at a ludicrously low £4.95 for a 256-page full-colour, hardback book. It sold poorly. The price was reduced to £2.95. We got rid of the rest of the stock, but did not reprint. Sainsbury and M&S (who had a good book by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter) also gave up on trying to give their customers cheap opportunities to “educate” themselves.

At the IWC, I also witnessed the questionable value of our efforts as conscientious tasters. Every year, Charles Metcalfe, Derek Smedley and I, slogged our way through thousands of samples in the search for the best of the best: the wines that would get gold medals and trophies. And every year I saw some of these brilliant trophy-winning wines fail to secure UK distribution. Or to attract shoppers’ attention on the shelves. And every year I saw our sales of Seal of Approval stickers rise as the public flocked to buy inexpensive bottles that carried them.

If I knew how few copies of Wine International we were selling, I also knew how poor the numbers were for our competitors. They actually sold even fewer than we did, but were rather better at getting wine companies to buy advertising. Then there were the discussions with newspaper publishers and TV production companies who shared with me the (dismal) results of their reader surveys and their viewing figures. Yes, the people who bothered to turn to my words in the Sunday Telegraph really did appreciate my shopping-list buying advice more than my award-winning story-telling.

All of these experiences have contributed to my oft-repeated mantra that consumers – especially in the UK – are simply not very interested in wine and are more interested in getting a drinkable bargain than a bottle of something more interesting.

Much of what I’ve described here was personal however. After the sale of Wine International and the IWC in 2005, I got the chance to gain a lot more insight into the ways of the wine world. First, there were my own le Grand Noir and Greener Planet wines – produced with Hugh Ryman and Kevin Shaw at Celliers Jean d’Alibert in the Minervois. We seem to be doing something right with that business, if sales of 1.2m bottles in 17 countries is any measure. But it’s far from easy. I suspect I am one of the very few wine communicators in Rioja this week who has sat, holding my samples, nervously waiting to see buyers’ of retail chains in the UK, US and China. But if I know how hard it is to get wines into those chains (and how much one often has to pay for the privilege), I also know how tough it is for them to sell anything that isn’t branded and/or marketed and/or (especially) sold at an attractive discount.

I also smile when I see wine communicators urging producers against making wines with high alcohol, residual sugar and obvious oak. Left to their own devices, these are precisely the wines huge numbers of consumers flock to buy. Actually they’d buy even more if it were on offer. A few years ago, wearing my DoILikeIt? research hat, and on behalf of a big client, we gave a large number of middle aged UK wine drinkers samples of Australian red, French rosé and Bordeaux with varying levels of sugar. In every case, the vast majority preferred the sweetest or next-to-sweetest sample, including a red Bordeaux with 12g (even more than in most Yellow Tail)

The research we have done – and continue to do – at DoILikeIt? often throws up information that many wine communicators might not like to hear. A significant proportion – 25% - of a sample of several thousand UK consumers sad that they really liked “oaky white wine”, and an even larger number said the same about red.

My involvement with DoILikeIt? and its bigger clients, along with my role as editor at large of Meininger’s Wine Business International has helped shift my focus to facts and figures rather than the anecdotal stuff that is often wine communicators’ stock in trade.

Now, when someone says that X, Y or Z is a “hot topic”, I take the effort to see what’s happening online. I was interested, for example, to see that “natural wine” was getting no more google searches than “blackberry wine”.  Do what I did and look up qvevri (in various spellings) on twitter and count how many times it gets mentioned and, more importantly, by how many people.

UK observers often rejoice in the apparent rise in the average price of wine in their country over the last few years from £3.86 in 2006 to £5.10 in July 2013. This sounds like a positive trend, until you pull out the calculator and work out that UK inflation would have raised the figure to £4.82, to which has to be added an extra £0.85 in increased taxes. In other words, the average bottle is over 10% cheaper than it was in 2006.

So, to go back to those three accusations I listed in my opening paragraph. Am I naturally pessimistic? No, I normally like to look at my glass as being neither half full nor half empty. And if I see the level dropping steadily (like the average price of wine in the UK for example) rather than rising, I’ll say so. Am I naturally argumentative? Yes, I’ll plead guilty as charged – and I’d say that anyone who considers themselves to be a journalist should  certainly have a natural tendency to question what is set before them as fact. Whether or not I’m “downright wrong” is obviously a matter of opinion, but the fact that I happily undertake consultancy for wine producers and regions of varying sizes leaves me open to the charge of being “in the pocket of big business”. I’ll freely admit to being able to see things through the eyes of producers whatever their size, as well as through those of the consumers on whom they rely. From where I stand, the producers of a qvevri wine in Georgia or Cupcake Red Velvet in California are in the same game: using grapes to make a beverage that will sufficiently satisfy the people at whom it is aimed for them to buy another bottle.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Variety v varietal, the Daily Mail and the deck chairs on the Titanic

In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the  Blefuscudians favoured opening their soft-boiled eggs at the big end, while the Lilliputians preferred the little end. Or was it the other way round? All that matters is that the choice of end really mattered sufficiently to the leaders of these countries for them to go to war over it.

Yesterday, a number of well respected wine writers argued online at some length over the use of the terms "variety" and "varietal". The abuse of these words is apparently of some importance. (To them at least.)

My own view on the subject - in common, I discovered, with Italian wine specialist Janice Cable (@insideiwm) in New York - is of intense apathy. But for those who disagree with me over this, I'd merely a) suggest that they note the spelling of Burgundy's red wine grape in the news piece below...

...and b) note the following results of research we (DoILikeIt?) did with visitors to the 2010 London Wine Show.

Note that we sidestepped the "varietal" v "variety" issue by asking these people (who'd paid £15 to attend a wine fair and might thus be thought to have an interest in the subject) whether they thought that Moulis, Guigal etc were a "region", "brand" or "grape".

If newspaper journalists and sub-editors don't know how to spell Pinot Noir and if more than one in five apparently otherwise well-educated London wine drinkers think that Moulis and Guigal are grapes, and a similar number think that Malbec is a brand, maybe, just maybe, sweating over the use of variet(y)/(al) is a little like worrying about the look of the Titanic's deck chairs.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No more Getting Wood - what happened when the wine industry gave up using barrels...

A whimsical piece of satire that originally appeared - and was commissioned for -
The concrete “eggs” that have replaced wooden barrels.
Sonoma Cast Stone

The ISPB - International Society for the Protection of Birds - announced yesterday that it was supporting the  “Get Wood” campaign recently launched by France’s leading barrel-making organisation FAT - the Fédération Artisanale des Tonneliers, and LOUSA Lumberjacks Of USA. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Cath Artiformes said that her charity was very concerned about the impact the trend towards unoaked wines was having on some of the world’s forests. “The woodland of Troncais, Nevers, Allier, Vosges and Limousin in France and Missouri in the US provide an essential habitat for a wide range of birds, including buzzards and tits.” she said, going on to suggest that “It may not be too much to say that if this tendency is not reversed, the American eagle may become extinct”. 
Today, France has just two working cooperages, and one of these has switched most of its focus to producing decorative water butts and containers for plants and flowers. The abandonment of casks by bourbon producers in the US has led to a similar collapse in the North American barrel market, while over 90% of Australian and New Zealand wine is now aged in eggs or stainless steel. “It was all that oaky Chardonnay and Shiraz from the big foreign-owned wine companies that did for our wine industry” declared Hunter Valley winemaker Hedda Intheclouds. “Now, we’ve got rid of all those brands, shrunk production by 90% and are making French-style regional wine in eggs, we’ve got the Australian industry precisely where we want it to be”.
Unwooded wines started to gain a following in the early years of the 21st century, thanks in part to the efforts of leading UK critics such as Jancis Robinson and Tim Atkin who repeatedly took a stand against what they believed to be the “overoaked” character of some New World wines. For a while, however, the producers of regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy continued to believe that ageing in new oak barrels was important for their wines. It was the financial crisis of 2007-8 that drove many to reconsider their position, especially after the arrival on the scene of concrete “eggs”. With new barrels costing $1000 or more apiece, the eggs - which never need replacing - pay for themselves remarkably quickly, and after the high profile chateau Pontet Canet announced that it had bought an egg, France’s and America’s coopers began to see orders drying up.

A major factor in the move away from barrels has been the rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and, since around 2015, Riesling, none of which is usually aged in barrels. Another nail in the (oak) coffin was the final retirement of wood and bird lover Robert Parker and the declaration by his successor Hugh G Balloni that the 2016 vintage of Huevo Podrido, a newly launched $100, unwooded, Sin-Crianza, wine from Marques de Murrieta was the finest Rioja he’d ever tasted. Across the border in Portugal, the traditionalists received another blow when the ever-innovative Taylor’s (inventors of Croft Pink Port) announced that it was now ageing its vintage port in real concrete “pipes” rather than wooden ones.

 “We are facing a disaster” said barrelmaker François Quercus. “Now even the most successful Napa wineries have switched to eggs, while our former French customers have taken to printing “Vieux Chêne” - Old Oak - on their labels. Shaking his head in dismay, Quercus said “barrels have been part of wine since the days of the Romans. Wine has to be in a barrel. It needs to breathe through the wood; wine that has been aged in stainless steel or concrete develops undesirable ‘reduced’ aromas”. Experts like Dr Jamie Goode, disagree, however, responding that these characteristics are the result of winemakers not adapting their sulphor regime to the new containers.

Some members of the so-called “natural” wine movement are uncertain how to react to the switch from barrels to eggs. “On the one hand, I applaud the fact that wine no longer has that artificial vanilla flavour, and sometimes smells naturally like a badly-tended latrine”, said doyenne of the movement, Alice Feiring, “But on the other, I worry about all those birds”.
The facts behind the whimsy
(Any resemblance between this story and recent trends involving natural corks is entirely intentional)
Oak barrel sales are falling. In a July 10, 2013 article, Drinks Business quoted Pierre Marchais, marketing director of French barrelmaker Vicard as saying that  “3% of the world’s global wine production was aged in barrel, now it’s just 2%, so we’ve lost 33% of the market…The trend at the moment is for fruit forward wines that are designed to be drunk young, which isn’t working in our favour.”

The cork producers of Portugal regularly – and questionably - claim that a move from natural corks to synthetic ones or screwcaps will lead to the extinction of wildlife in Portuguese forests. And fans of natural cork, like M Quercus, also like to say that undesirable “reduction” aromas are a frequent consequence of the use of screwcaps.
90% of New Zealand wine is now sealed with screwcaps (without evident reduction problems) while the figure in Australia is rising to similar levels.
Hedda Intheclouds is an invention, but her views do very closely represent those of some Australian producers I have met.

Concrete eggs do cost less in the long term than barrels and are being introduced by increasing numbers of producers, including Pontet Canet.
I apologise for putting words in the mouths of any living people and for imagining the launch of wines that are unlikely ever to exist.

A wine manifesto - and a personal response.

I thought that you'd like what I like. Sorry, my dear."
(Stephen Sondheim - Send in the Clowns)

Jamie Goode, the highly respected brains behind has published a manifesto which I have taken the liberty of reprinting and responding to here.

Manifestos, by their very nature, are statements of belief that invite argument. In my experience, they also rarely stand up to the acid test of reality.

I agree with many of Goode's points, and on occasion my response involves diabolical advocacy as much as my own. On the other hand, I would say that his general message, which can be taken as a defence of the old ways of Europe and a rebuttal of New World commerciality, does indeed founder on the rocks of the real world. French consumers are turning away from their traditional wines (which represent the majority of what they are offered) in their droves. A growing 38% of the population is now officially classed as non wine-drinkers and the figure for French women is 50%. The fastest-growing sectors are of artificially fruit-flavoured wines and Vins de France, both of which are explicitly or implicitly criticised in the manifesto. Also growing in France is the market for sweet(ened) and oaked wines. Meanwhile, in the US, the world's most valuable wine market, the boom is in precisely the oaky, sweet "tricked" up wines Goode so evidently despises.
Poster in French holiday village, advertising
"doux" - sweet - and "boisé - oaky - white wines -
at premium prices.

One of the many promotions of fruit-flavoured
wine to be seen in almost every French supermarket
this summer.

I may not choose to drink these wines myself, but I defend the right of the people who enjoy them to go on doing so without being treated as though they are lesser beings.

Manifestos also tend to be very much of their time. Thankfully, and despite the efforts of bodies like France’s Institut National des Appellations Contrôlées (INAO), wine, like cooking, is in a constant process of evolution. Turn the clock back far enough and there was no Champagne, no port or sherry, no late-harvest Sauternes. In more recent times, Bordeaux was made with Syrah, and adding Algerian wine to French was considered normal – as was consumption of a couple of litres per day. There are tendencies today that Goode may regret; time will tell whether they survive or not. Bonny babies will doubtless be thrown out with the bathwater, but equally pretty ones will be born to replace them.

1 The heart of authenticity
Authentic wine is rooted in a place and time
Is non-vintage Krug not “authentic”? And what about a Vin de France that tastes French or a South East Australian wine that tastes Australian. How tightly are you defining “place"?. And if a "best of a bad job" 2013 Bordeaux is authentic, is that necessarily preferable to a more palatable blend of 2012, 2013 and 2014?

2 The skill of winegrowing.
Sensitive, intelligent winegrowing produces wines that capture the location and the vintage.
And what of innovative winegrowers? People who capture a different version of the vintage to their neighbours – such as Didier Dagueneau’s “Maudit” late harvest Sancerre and Jean Thevenet’s Bongran Macon. Did Sassicaia “capture the location” when it was first produced?

3 The art of interpretation
There can be a number of different interpretations of a particular terroir. It’s wrong to think that there can just be one wine made from each site. Consider the site as a musical score. You can have bad, good or even great renditions. Among the good ones there may be differences.
Ah, so you’ve addressed the concern voiced in my response to your Point 2.

4 Soils matter
The ceiling for wine quality is determined by the soil. Great wines can only be made from privileged terroirs, no matter how skilled the winegrower and how perfect the climate.

A note on language.
Language is important. It shapes our perception. Careful use of language reminds us of important issues. For this reason, we should stop using the term ‘winemaker’. My preference is for ‘winegrower’. It better reflects the role of human agency in the production of wines, which at its heart is a microbiological transformation.
It all depends on the scale of production. In a small domaine, I agree that the person whose name appears on the label is indeed the winegrower as well as the winemaker. But in larger operations, which still offer great wines, there is no way for the responsibilities to be combined. Bordeaux producers may not traditionally have referred to the vinificateur but they did have the maître de chai -  the cellarmaster.

Besides, while I would hate to belittle the importance of the way the vines are tended - there is no great wine without great grapes - to focus on what happens in the vineyard is to underrate the long list of decisions made following the harvest. Goode is, for example, a supporter of Qvevri - amphora - wines made by leaving the grapes on their skins. Producing wine in this way is a choice, as is the decision the how any wine is to be fermented, matured and quite possibly blended. All of these skills have more in common with those of a cook than of a horticulturist. Most of the worst wines I have tasted - whatever their style - owe their poor quality to the failings of the "cook" rather than that of the grower.

5  Some wines are just wine
Of many wines there is nothing to be said. They are just wine. It’s foolish to say anything more about them, but still some people try.
That’s true of books, movies, restaurants and wine. Curiously, music and movie and TV critics think it worth reviewing a wide range of what’s on offer. You could just as easily say that a hamburger is a hamburger, and not bother to consider the respective merits of different chains. Or, alternatively, you could follow the example of fashion writers who are as ready to talk about cheap Primark and Top Shop t shirts as the ones bearing Armani labels.

6 A mystical transformation
Wine is made by microbes, but so often we forget about the importance of yeasts and bacteria in this mystical transformation. That’s an error on our part.
That’s true of cheese and yoghurt and beer and bread and vinegar. So what?

7 The wine is a whole
Reductive approaches to understanding wine – breaking it up into its various components – have a place and some utility. But this utility is limited. If we want to understand wine properly we need to take a holistic approach.

8 Express the vintage
Vintage variation isn’t a problem to be ironed out. By all means combat the challenges of each vintage with gusto. But consider the vintage in dealing with the wine in the cellar. Vintage variation adds interest when handled well.
To whom? To the relatively tiny proportion of consumers with an interest in wine certainly, and to (some) others when buying more premium wines. But to most consumers? Did the French consumers who drank 160 litres per adult per year in 1965, and bought it in recyclable glass litre-bottles by the alcoholic degree care?
Does anyone today who’s buying wines such as basic Chilean Merlot, South East Australian Shiraz, Côtes du Rhône, Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or white Zinfandel (ie the vast majority of wine drinkers) give a damn about the difference between the 2013 and 2012 vintages of those wines? Or do they want a bottle of wine that tastes like the last one they bought and enjoyed? Wine has always been seen as a partner for bread: how many French boulangerie customers rejoice in variations in their daily baguettes?

Are buyers of even quite serious Bordeaux really currently on the edge of their seats waiting to find out how the chateau owners are going to get out of the rotten mess of their 2013 vintage? Or are they going to buy the 2010 or 2009 in the greater confidence of getting a decent drink for their money? Do I go to a Michelin-starred restaurant to experience the skills of a great chef in dealing with substandard meat? Or would I rather hear the waiter say that Chef regrets that the beef at the market was not up to his standards? It is no accident that one of the main criteria for Michelin stardom is consistency of quality: few restaurant goers get excited at innovations the chef has introduced to their favourite dish. Port and Champagne producers understand this - and do themselves and their customers a favour by not declaring vintages every year.

9 Monsters aren’t serious
There’s a place for monster, ripe, bad ass wines. It’s just that they aren’t serious.  But so often the people who make them want them to be taken seriously, which instantly makes them joke wines.
Who’s defining the joke? Was Marcel Duchamp’s urinal a joke? Are Damien Hirst’s spot paintings jokes? Is John Cage’s Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds (of silence) a joke? Is Turley 17% Zinfandel a joke? To you maybe, and to those who share your views (and I may be among them), but the people who are paying high prices for all of those “jokes” would beg to disagree. History will be our judge. (Could you afford to buy the Duchamp joke? Or a bottle of Screaming Eagle?)

 10 The evil of overripeness
Overripeness in red wines is a grave sin that has to be covered up with acidification and oak. The sadness: often it is avoidable.
I notice that you don’t mention the “grave sin” of weedy underripe wine that “has to be covered up with” chaptalisation.  It’s far more rarely encountered these days than in the past (read the first, 1980s, edition of Anthony Hanson’s Burgundy) but far from unknown, especially in basic Bordeaux. And I’ll bet that more consumers will prefer the overripe stuff to the weedy.

11 Wine: be yourself

There’s nothing wrong with commercial wines. The world needs good, cheap wine. But cheap wine doesn't have to try to mimic more serious wine by winemaking trickery. Honest wines are better than ‘better’ wines.
By this logic,  the poor shouldn’t have fake-leather handbags or costume jewelry, and chefs shouldn’t use truffle oil instead of real truffles. On a personal level, I find excessive use of truffle oil as objectionable as overuse of toasty oak chips in wine. But subtle use of either can improve the flavour of a dish or a glass. It’s all about pleasure. If a wine that has been subject to “winemaking trickery” gives more pleasure to the person buying it for $5-10 than your concept of an “honest” wine, should we decry it?

12 The sadness of spoofulation
There aren’t all that many special places to grow wine grapes. It’s a tragedy when a privileged terroir is used to make sweet, oaky, international-styled red wines.
I admire your certainty over the style of wine that should be made anywhere – bearing in mind that Pomerol was once a place for white wine, Pouilly Fumé was full of Chasselas and Barolo used to be sweet and fizzy. Tragedy is a big word. I've been guilty of this level of hyperbole myself (including on an occasion when we were both on the same panel) but I'd suggest that there are more tragic situations in the world today than the fact that some people  happen to enjoy Riojan or St Emillionais “sweet, oaky, international-styled red wines” whose style you dislike.

13 The taste is not in the wine
The taste of wine is not a property of the wine, but is a property of our interaction with the wine. We bring a lot to the wine tasting experience.

14 Wine as an aesthetic system
Wine appreciation doesn’t exist in isolation, but is part of a wider aesthetic system. We decide together what is great about wine, through our interactions, our discussions, and our learning.
Who is “we”? Robert Parker thinks that Pavie is great. Jancis Robinson doesn’t. Opinions differ over the “greatness” of Damien Hirst. Ultimately, it’s subjective and will always be, and any suggestion to the contrary smacks of intellectual fascism.

 5 Too many commercial palates
The wine trade is chock full of talented tasters, but too many have commercial palates. They are skilled at differentiating among commercial wines, and even very good wines, but can’t differentiate top quality commercial wines from truly serious wines. They often take offence when you suggest there’s a difference.
What is the opposite of a “commercial” palate? An “uncommercial” one, presumably. And what does “commercial” mean? Something that someone will buy. “Truly serious” wines have to find buyers, just as much as the cheapest wines on the shelf. Winemaking is not an academic exercise. Every bottle represents investment of human time, effort and money; heaping praise on a wine that no one is going to purchase (at a viable price) is like talking up a play that no one is going to want to buy a ticket to attend. Intellectual onanism.

16 Don’t expect others to pick up your tab
The wine business – and especially vineyards – must be sustainable. You can’t expect the next generation to pick up your tab.
This is a fine and admirably stated concept, but sustainability can mean different things to different people. Californians who are using Central Valley grapes to make “commercial” wines using “winemaking trickery”  that they sell at relatively high prices are arguably working more sustainably than Europeans who are making traditional wines that they sell for little or no profit. The Americans have a good incentive to go on growing those grapes; the Europeans don’t.

17 True to origins
If you stick the name of a place on a wine label, the wine should taste of that place.
And you’ve defined that taste, I presume. Just remember that the taste of Pouilly Fumé in 1813 would have been of Chasselas.

18 No new clothes
If you hate overripeness and obvious new oak (as you should), take care lest you end up praising a wine for the mere absence of these faults. It happens.
This is more than a little dictatorial. Some people like wines that taste of noble rot; some like the raisiny and possibly volatile character or Recioto. There's nothing new about relishing the flavour of oak: Spanish wine fans were talking about it in the 1970s.

19 Wine resists the proud
Be humble in the face of wine. It’s an endlessly complex subject that changes each year. It’s beyond any single human’s ability to understand to any serious degree. We see in part. That’s OK.
A very good point, very well made.

 20 Bright side story
There’s lots of bad wine, but I’m not going to worry too much about it. I’ll just spend time chasing the good ones. There are plenty to keep me going.
Fair enough. But we might differ over our definitions of “bad”. After scarily many years of tasting, I’m very certain that the proportion of “bad” wine – by which I mean wine that is unfit for its purpose, and is undrinkable by most consumers – is smaller than it has ever been. The proportion of “ordinary, mediocre wine, however, is correspondingly larger. (As it is in restaurant food)

 21 There is always another wine
Supply and demand imbalances mean that every now and again, old favourite wines become no longer affordable. Still, there are lots of new ones to discover. Friends move on; you make new friends.
Very true.

22 Buildings, people, fabrics
We have an impoverished vocabulary for tastes and smells, so describing wine ends up a challenge. Figurative language is the best way of capturing the personality of wine in words. Shopping lists of ingredients are so inadequate.
 Sadly, we have yet to find a way of describing wines that reflects the way consumers see it. (Judging by the language they use themselves).

23 Beer is better than wine
Many commercial wines are so deeply dull, dishonest and tricked about with that I’d rather drink beer. Many in the wine trade are so disillusioned because they know that they are peddling crap, that they lose their love for wine. Beware!
Is “commercial” beer “honest” and not “tricked about with” I think the good folk at Brewdog would beg to differ, as this blog reveals. Is Budweiser, with its 40% rice content really a less “honest” product that Yellow Tail with its residual sugar

 24 Escape the small oak rut
Too many winegrowers are obsessed by small oak. Small oak – barrels and  barriques – doesn’t suit all that many wines. But it seems the default vessel of élevage. It’s a mistake.

25 Mouthfeel matters
It’s in the mouth that we really get to understand a wine. Texture, mouthfeel, elegance, finesse – they’re all underrated.