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Interview: Sabiha Apaydin of the Root, Origin, Soil conference

This month we talked to Sabiha Apaydin, leader, coordinator and wine educator of Istanbul’s renowned Mikla restaurant. She is also a passionate advocate of heritage Anatolian grape varieties and the founder of the conference Root, Origin, Soil (Kok Koken Toprak) where Sarah was invited to speak on the importance of creating a credible category for old vines.

How did you come to wine?

I studied tourism and hotel management. I have worked in the food and beverage industry since I was a student so I’ve always had an interest in wine. In the last 15 years, I have focused on wine in more detail. I have a vineyard but do not produce wine yet; I teach wine and front of house at the culinary arts academy [as well as writing] articles and giving speeches on Anatolian grapes. Also, the Root, Origin, Soil conference, the second of which I organized on June 19th, 2022. I try to keep important issues on my agenda about wine.

The fine wine scene in Istanbul is small but incredibly sophisticated, attracting some of the most discerning and wealthy wine collectors in the world. It’s easy to imagine that such a wine culture might be traditional, even conservative – I know that Mikla lists all of the great iconic wines of the world, from Bordeaux to Italy and beyond. Have you found your customers at Mikla receptive to the Turkish wines you champion?

Mikla cuisine is made with only local products and ingredients from local research all over the country. With these dishes, we wanted to serve only the wines of local producers. We did choose as many high-end Bordeaux wines or wines from Italy and other countries as possible in our wine list but tried tried not to have foreign wines in what we call the ‘middle segment’. We also serve about 40 different local wines by the glass. Both foreign and domestic customers are pleased that there is more choice in the glass. In addition, our tasting menus are paired with only local wines. I can say that we mainly promote local wines.

Tell me what’s exciting you most about the Istanbul wine scene at the moment.

I am very excited about the increasing number of wines made with local grapes. Drinking wine from a grape whose name I have heard for the first time is priceless. Especially if these are wines fermented in their natural yeast, it seems much more interesting to me. In countries like ours, where the world of wine has been disrupted, it is exciting that domestic grapes come from behind and make up for it, even though international varieties dominate at first.

What is it that drew you to champion Anatolian heritage grapes?

We must emphasize the importance of the grapes and viticulture in Anatolia, which continues to exist in richness despite all the ignorance. The continuation of the processing of grapes that are about to disappear by local people and large and small wine companies should be the sole issue that we will not stop talking about, both in terms of a sustainable future and in terms of distinguishing Turkey from others in this large and global industry.

In 2018, I started to research Turkey as a country that dwells on the lands that gave birth to wine and the numerous grape varieties it had in the past. That’s why I decided to organize a “Root, Origin, Soil” symposium, which first took place in June 2019. I aimed to discuss our grape varieties’ past, present, and future. It is important to note that such an event has rarely happened in the past due to many regulations and that most other wine events that got the go-ahead were either a tasting or a competition but not a discussion. Tasting is essential, but we must also consider our wine history. Today, 70% of the wine produced worldwide comes from only 30 grape varieties!

According to the Tekirdağ Bağcılık Araştırma Institute, which is the vine Research Institute here, Turkey has more than 1435 grape varieties, many of which are genetically unique.

It is essential for a sustainable future that the wine produced from local grapes continue to be processed by wine companies of all sizes. The only distinctions between Turkey and the other wine producers are the size and globalization of the wine industry in the production of local grapes in a way that reflects their characteristics. Our common goal should be to protect the local grapes with thousands of years of history and value held back by mediocrity and uniformity in today’s conditions. However, the Turkish market is very different today. People are considering the type of grapes used in wine even though many remain unknown or forgotten, just waiting to be discovered out there.

We think your focus on autochthonous grapes is not just influential, but visionary. How have you empowered Turkish producers to feel comfortable working with autochthonous varieties rather than the international varieties which used to characterise Turkish wine production?

It was usual for the Turkish wine industry, which had been interrupted for various reasons, to prefer slightly more accessible ways to recover. Oenologists from abroad, the durability of international varieties, and their compatibility with all kinds of soils have benefited the survival of this reconstructed sector. Despite the persistence of local grape varieties, the grape varieties that continue today are used differently. I decided to support this issue when I realized that this diversity continued.

The attention you can attract with new world-style wines and international grapes by saying that we live in the land where wine was born will not be permanent. Despite everything, Turkey is a famous region in terms of tourism. It is not something to be expected in the first place for a foreign group to come and order a Chardonnay from Turkey. Even if we make delicious Chardonnay, the thing you will want to try for the first time will be a local grape. Our level of good winemaking has come to a head. I think most producers are in pursuit of innovation. Consumption trends are changing rapidly both in the world and in Turkey.

I keep asking Turkish producers how we should describe ourselves as a wine country? It is necessary to find the answer to this question. If we start the work now, maybe we have a chance to catch it from somewhere. How do we raise the bar? How do we differentiate? Uniformity and mediocrity are increasing but being different are intriguing and demanding.

What were your key takeaways from the second edition of the Root Origin Conference?

I had gained momentum in the first conference, and people had a question mark in their minds. I saw it. I got perfect feedback. Local grape trials began to increase, and the majority shared it. As in the world, we took a two-year break from our lives, and although the second program was ready, I had to cancel it. This year, I wanted to show that I am determined despite everything. My determination could also affect producers and consumers. So, it happened. Our collective selves need to keep working. We do not have government support; we only have ourselves. We must keep moving.

What is it that you think makes Turkish wine unique?

With its geographical location, Turkey has the most suitable climatic conditions for viticulture and grape growing. It ranks 5th in the world regarding the size of vineyard areas.

It is in the place of civilizations where grapes were cultivated, and the variety of grapes is very rich in terms of local species. The wine regions of Turkey haven’t changed a lot since the ancient peoples were here. Turkey has a wealth of its native grapes.

Despite all this, it continues to produce wine in modern ways. But the number of producers returning to traditional methods and using local grapes is increasing day by day.

 

Root, origin, soil: exploring Turkish wine, varieties and old vines in Istanbul

A decade ago, I was among a flock of MWs invited to Turkey to judge Turkish wine and participate in a “Masters of Wine Weekend”. In one of Istanbul’s many glamorous hotels, we were arrayed on an elevated table, like polyamorous brides, looking not at each other but down at “the audience” below. That audience, we discovered as our first results were displayed in real time, comprised the winery owners and winemakers whose wines we were judging. There were gasps. Great sense of drama though.

The wine discourse in Turkey was among the most aspirational I had heard or read. These were cultured, often intellectual, wine lovers, accustomed to the best of life, and proud of their discernment. At the masterclasses we were each charged with hosting, my flight was “The Grands Crus of DRC”. A fellow MW had “The First Growths of Bordeaux”.

Despite one on-stage row about the merits of a Boğazkere (think Tannat, via Turkey), we were captivated by the wines made from these autochthonous Anatolian grape varieties. But at that time domestic superstars of Turkish wine were from “international” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Many solid and several good wines in a big, assertive and familiar, even predictable, idiom. The unusual suspects (such as Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Emir, Narince) were nuanced, textured, and mysteriously fresh.

The ten years since have challenged Turkey’s wineries with a hostile regulatory structure, disrupted tourism, falling currency and even wild fires. But last weekend in Istanbul, I was filled again with hope and excitement for Turkish wine.

Root, Origin, Soil (Kok Koken Toprak) is a conference on “Anatolian Heritage Grapes” founded in 2019 by Sabiha Apaydin. Apaydin is the long-term wine director at Mehmet Gürs’ visionary Mikla Restaurant in Istanbul. As well as creating the world-class wine list at Mikla, she is a certified WSET wine educator, and contributed to the Roca Brothers “The Turkish Way” 2015 documentary on contemporary Turkish food and wine. She was a prescient advocate for the value of autochthonous Turkish wine grape varieties. Her wine list spotlights the most exciting wines of Turkey. It is a rich selection, including varieties that were new to me, thanks to the commitment of even more producers to recuperating and making wine of their land and community.

I was at the 2022 edition of Root, Origin, Soil to speak (alongside Umay Ceviker) about an Old Vine Conference project to nurture heritage vineyards in Turkey. The galvanising energy of Sabiha’s mission was there in the speakers (who included Turkish experts in viticulture and wine culture, as well as renowned winemakers such Mateja Gravner, who spoke on wine and sustainability). And it was in the audience, a full house of wine professionals, students and enthusiasts more diverse and youthful than those we had met in our lordly MW weekends.

That energy also filled the evening wine tasting, held at Mikla as the sun set over Istanbul, at which more than 20 Turkish producers poured thrilling wines from autochthonous grapes for a joyous, youthful crowd. (I’ll publish my picks from that tasting next week.)

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire” admonished Mahler. Turkish wine culture today is more flame than reverence. Turkish Master Sommelier, Isa Bal, co-owner of Trivet, thinks that reverence reserved for “International” wines, and their grape varieties, was a form of cultural imperialism constricting Turkish wine. Apaydin’s vision, ambition and networks are like oxygen for this contemporary culture informed by heritage, energised by community. As Mehmet Gürs says, “Every bit and sip we take can truly change the world.”

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Swirl Wine Group is the UK partner of D-Vine

We’re thrilled to announce that Swirl is the UK partner for D-Vine via our French partner EOC. D-Vine is a revolutionary fine wine by-the-glass system enjoying rapid growth in France, and now launching in the UK.

D-Vine has been adopted by more than 1000 clients in the hospitality sector who have seen their by-the-glass revenue increase by up to 30%, and customers delighted by the elevated wine quality, service and range. Now Swirl are excited to bring this multi award-winning innovation to the UK market.

What makes D-Vine different from other BTG systems?

D-Vine was created by a team of 3 engineers with a deep interest in wine. They asked what made a sommelier-served glass of fine wine so exceptional, and set out to recreate this experience with wine tech. Even in restaurants with a dedicated wine team, the sommelier cannot always be pouring wine by the glass. They might be in the cellar, presenting a wine pairing, or talking to a table about a bottle sale.

D-Vine’s wine range is exceptional and is produced and bottled in partnership with some of the world’s most acclaimed wine producers. The single serve tubes have a three-year shelf life.

The D-Vine uses a patented two-way temperature control system. The ideal temperature is pre-determined by the wine maker and D-Vine’s oenologist Béatrice Dominé and pre-programmed so each wine is served at the ideal temperature at the touch of a button. It also uses a venturi-effect aeration and ventilation system so that each glass is aerated as though it had been decanted three hours earlier.

And the whole process takes a mere 40 seconds.

But is it really possible to recreate the experience of a knowledgeable sommelier describing each wine; sharing tid-bits of history and anecdote? We think you can. The D-Vine’s integration of content is a really important point-of-difference. A QR code menu can be browsed by the consumer offering incredible access to the kind of information which will get them excited to try all sorts of BTG options. Members of the staff also have access to this information to improve their knowledge about the wine list and give good advice to the customers.

Why is now the right time to bring D-Vine to the UK?

The pandemic accelerated the shift in consumer focus from quantity to quality – and reported increases in by-the-glass sales are a natural side effect of that shift. The thing we find so interesting about D-Vine is that they are, uniquely in their market, focussed on preserving the quality of the BTG experience. The D-Vine system uses wine tech to give a sommelier-esque serve. So, what better time for them to launch in the UK?

How will Swirl be working with D-Vine?

We’re honoured to have been entrusted with bringing this brilliant BTG system to the UK market. Working with our French partners, EOC, we are recruiting a UK ambassador who will build the UK market for D-Vine. At The London Wine Fair in June we will be supporting the D-Vine team in their sponsorship of The Discovery Zone. We look forward to seeing you there.

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Our March Newsletter: The Wine’s The Thing – the power of grass-roots marketing

In our March newsletter we reflect on the power of grass-roots marketing

Last Monday Swirl attended a party with a purpose – the Old Vine Conference’s 2022 launch, co-hosted by our founder, Sarah Abbott MW. The Old Vine Conference is an extraordinary success story; a Sunday-evening side-hustle turned compelling, far-reaching campaign.

Since it was founded a year ago, The Old Vine Conference [OVC] has had real impact: 1300 people registered for the first conference, from more than twenty different countries. There have been 87 individual pieces of coverage across print and digital – generating 2.1 million online article views – and social coverage generated more than 430,000 interactions. Jancis Robinson’s 2021 writing competition, on the theme of old vines, (and inspired by the OVC), had a terrific 136 entries, the IWSC has partnered with the OVC to launch an Old Vine Wine Trophy and there will be and Old Vine Wine Trail at the 2022 London Wine Fair. In essence, the OVC has shown that viticulture is no longer just for geeks – old vine wine puts people viscerally in the vineyards, and they can’t get enough.

There is a type of magic here. We talked to Belinda Stone, Consultant Head of Marketing, about why she thinks that this is old vines’ marketing moment. The ambition to create a new category which is viticultural rather than geographical doesn’t really have precedent. But the time feels right. Never was that more apparent on Monday night, when a cross-section of the trade joined the OVC team for the first time in person to talk about old vine wines. But also, more saliently, to taste them.

To paraphrase Hamlet, the wine’s the thing. The OVC isn’t out to capture the consciences of consumers, so much as they want to capture their imaginations. As we at Swirl know, there is no more powerful way to do this than by putting those wines in people’s glasses. Never has this been more apparent to us than on Monday night when twenty great old vine wines from across the world were brought together in one place.

It was energising to see the emotion and excitement these wines generated in the people tasting them. It’s the first time that wines have been presented together specifically because they’re made from old vines, and it was fascinating to see the purity, the vitality and depth which transcends wine styles and even origins in this fledgling category. To give an idea of the breadth and intrigue of Old Vine wines, we’ve also collated Sarah Abbott MW’s exclusive tasting notes on each of the twenty wines featured last Monday on our blog.

Swirl feel very lucky to play a small part in this movement, thanks to our founder’s involvement. We predict great things to come as the OVC progresses to consumer tastings this summer. And most excitingly, you too can become part of this movement. Whether you join as an individual member, choose to offer support as a producer or generic body or want to volunteer yourself as a Regional Ambassador, the opportunities to help spread the word about old vine wine are endless.

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Interview: Belinda Stone of the Old Vine Conference

This month we talked to Belinda Stone, Consultant Head of Marketing for the Old Vine Conference, about why she thinks that this is old vines’ marketing moment.

There’s a quote from Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit that “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This really resonates in terms of how you seem to be planning to build the Old Vine collective into a viable, stand-alone category – via WOM, ambassadors, and other grass-roots marketing. Why do you think now is the right time for old vines to step into the spotlight?

Old vines pull together so many very topical threads: sustainability, organic, responsible farming and value for heritage varieties of common foods. Old vines are sustainable by nature: the lack of pesticides needed, the organic way that old vines need to be nurtured and are often as a default farmed, is all incredibly sustainable. They are treated individually and with respect. Talking about old vines also acknowledges the elephant in the room: that there are way too many vineyards in the world, and we don’t need to keep planting. Old vines, by the very virtue of being in the ground for so long, shout their suitability. They express that they’re in the right location, they’ve done well, continue to do well – they help tell the story of why a specific type of vine does well in a particular place. They’re doing well regardless of climate change, droughts, heavy rains, whatever. They are important resource sustaining the genetic information we can then gather to help identify old vines of the future.

Old vines have always been used in a small way in marketing. But now it really does feel like the right time fora cohesive, well-defined marketing messaging to be heard.

In terms of differentiating from a pure marketing standpoint, old vines are incredibly useful. There are so many vineyards, so many wineries, so many regions – old vines add weight to quality/ price point argument. They also give weight to green credentials wineries might otherwise be struggling to express. There is also a continued frustration around the world about the age of vineyards and not having a globally recognised standard for what is an ‘old vine’. Most people accept 35 years and above; but in some regions 35 isn’t considered an old vine – it’s a baby. People are keen to help consumers understand why an old vine wine would be different in so many ways to a non-old vine wine that they produce. And if they have a group of people, us, who are explaining it for them, it can help a lot of producers feel part of a bigger, global category which can help with their domestic and international presence.

We’ve referenced that Scott Cook quote above – other consumers are now the most influential tool in establishing a brand or product or, in this case, a product category. But we’re interested to know where the grass-roots style of your marketing approach.

Well, budget-wise it was a necessity. But with Old Vines and the messaging we’re trying to communicate, it somehow didn’t feel appropriate to create a big marketing campaign; to see pages of editorial in Decanter or online. It doesn’t fit the feel of the Old Vine message, so really there are ideological reasons as well as budgetary ones!

The Old Vine Conference’s mission is to ‘galvanise a global movement to nurture and value great old vines, and their wines’. It’s quite the aim – so it makes sense that there is no real yardstick for comparison. Rosé is the closest comparable ‘category’ we can think of, but they have no ‘generic’ body. How do you think this comparison holds?

Rosé is something similar as a category in that it can be part of anyone’s portfolio. But – there’s no generic office for rosé, [as we are trying to establish for Old Vines]. Really, we keep stumbling over this word ‘generic’. It’s a word – a concept – the trade immediately understands. But it sort of complicates our purpose because [the Old Vine Conference] is so much more than that. What we’re proposing is sort of the mother of generics – something that touches every generic body from Wines of Argentina to Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.

I was talking to Anita Jackson of Wines of Chile [at the launch party on Monday] and saying that I thought that it was the first group of Old Vine wines gathered together to be tasted before and she pointed out that at Wines of Chile tastings they’d had a table showcasing Old Vine bottles before. But, and I think this is the essential point, the tasting on Monday was the first gathering of Old Vine wines which was purely about old vines. It made the statement that Old Vine wines – they are all things. They touch every category; every region; every type of wine. It’s as though Old Vine wines are the blood running through the body of the wine world – flowing to every point.

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Sarah Abbott MW reviews old vine wines

Last Monday, Swirl attended a party with a purpose – the Old Vine Conference’s 2022 launch, co-hosted by our founder, Sarah Abbott MW. Here, Sarah shares her personal notes on the wines featured on the evening. If you’d like to know more about how you can support this initiative, visit the Old Vine website.

Vecchie Viti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2020, Ruggeri

80-100 year-old vines

I really loved this wine. I like the surprise value of a Prosecco really highlighting the long viticultural heritage of the the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. It’s a UNESCO agricultural heritage site thanks to the centuries of viticulture carved out by man in these very steep hills; because of the way these vines are traditionally grown on really unique grass terraces, and with a really deep interaction of farming and land. It’s a side of Prosecco almost ignored – even denied – by the mainstream. That’s why it’s so great that Ruggeri, a great producer, are maintaining these old vines when absolutely everything must be done by hand. They feel so passionately that this is a link to their heritage and the highest quality aspirations of what Prosecco can be. It’s an absolutely delicious sparkling wine – brilliantly fragrant with this lovely stone-fruity quality, and a really delicate texture and fine mousse.

Sparklehorse 2018, Ken Forrester

48 year-old vines

This is a Cap Classique traditional method wine, made working with really old Chenin – and people loved it. There’s almost a kind of prejudice against traditional method sparkling wines which use what are considered to be ‘aromatic’ grapes. It’s like it’s a dumbing down. I absolutely resist that assumption – it’s not true. I loved the interplay between the savoury autolysis on this wine with the gorgeous ripe quince, classic Chenin aromatics. An absolutely stunning wine.

Centenaire 2021, Domaine Lafage

95-100 year-old bush vines

This wine is made from 100 year-old bush vines in the craggy, wild Catalan terrain of far southern France. Winemaker Jean-Marc is from this area, and he’s a very smart switched on business man and winemaker. Having worked globally, he’s now returned to build up his family’s domaine as well as a highly respected negotiant company. This is from the domanie vines. He’s given them a new lease of life by making this absolutely delicious, peachy, sort of sneakily aromatic dry white wine.

Malvasia 2020, Abel Mendoza

35 year-old vines

This is a white Rioja from old Malvasia vines. I loved the understated freshness and intensity of this wine. It’s a great example of the really resurgent and strong old vine movement which is really taking off in Rioja. It’s absolutely cracking value for money and really shows that white Rioja can be one of the fine wines of the world.

Vineyard Collection Carignan Gris 2020, Domaine Jones

Over 100 year-old vines

Cariangn Gris is an unusual variety, relatively rare. This wine is from really old vines, over 100 years old – I find that there’s something very exciting about the old vine quality in white wines. It gives really pure depth. A cracking wine, with only 800 bottles made and, again, it really shows the freshness and tension which old vines bring to wines from this rich, historical area of southern France.

Ossian 2018, Ossian

Up to 200 year-old vines

Spain has so many great old vineyards, but it also has so much pressure to abandon or dig up those vineyards, which is why growers like Ossian are so important in Spain. This is from extraordinary un-grafted, pre-phylloxera 200 year-old vines. The soil here is so sandy that phylloxera can’t get to the root of the vine. A really unusual plot – and what an interesting and delicious wine. So full of tension and this delicious paradox between very exotic pear and this lovely green, grassy, almost oxidative notes. But it’s still so fresh. An absolutely unique style of Verdejo, and it really goes to show how great old vines show a whole other side of grape varieties which are otherwise overlooked or dismissed.

Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2020, Bosman Family Vineyards

70 year-old vines

From 70 year old vines – some of the oldest Chenin vines in South Africa, planted in 1952. They only make 260 cases. They were acutally planning to dig this up, but the winemaker said to the owners – let me give this vineyard a try, let me bottle is separately. And since then they’ve kept it going. It has this incredible combination of richness and depth and freshness.

Domaine de Cébène, Belle Lurette 2020, Brigitte Chevalier

80-100 year-old vines

Gorgeously aromatic but refined southern French wine from Faugères. It really shows that old vine quality isn’t just about body and concentration – its’s about a certain complexity and a kind of serenity.

Vagabond Grenache 2020, Thistledown Wines

80-100 year-old vines

An amazing wine from a superb project initiatied by Giles Cook MW and Fergal Tyan MW, working with growers in the McLaren Vale. They go in and identify these great old vine parcels, making single vineyard wines from this old vine fruit which was otherwise disappearing into blends. They’re able to pay the growers more for the fruit, and work with them to help them improve their viticulture. This is a wine which shows the incredible elegance and kind of lift old vine fruit can give to a wine. It’s one of the best Grenaches I’ve had for a while. It’s interesting that Grenache, like Carignan, is one of those varieties which can be overlooked. They’re kind of like delinquents which come good with some maturity.

Vieilles Vignes Cinsault 2019, Domaine des Tourelles

50 year-old vines

Cinsault was one of the original ‘settler’ vines in Lebanon. Lebanon has really long old vine heritage. It was one of the centres of viticulture in Roman Empire. That really indigenous viticulture was severely disrupted when Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire. But in the 1800s, Jesuit settlers brought and planted Cinsult from Algeria, so Cinsault is the second generation of native vines of Lebanon, if you like. This is from vines 50-100 years old. Again, it’s a wine which combines a rich perfume with a delicate texture. A real favourite of people on the evening, combining that gorgeous Lebanese exoticism wth freshness and balance.

Les Vignes Préphylloxérique 2013, Plaimont

150 year-old vines

An incredible piece of viticultural history, this is another pre-phylloxera vine wine. It’s from a single vineyard, planted in 1871 – it was so rich and intense and sort of sedimentary, filled with lovely dark dark blackberry fruits. Very compacted but fine grained tannins. A really incredible wine, but still a baby so I’m looking forward to seeing how it ages.

100 Year Old Vine Carignan 2018, Alchemy Wines

100 year-old vines

This wine had a lovely, welcoming, juicy, rich concentration with a lovely peppery finish. It’s incredible value for money.

Georgia on my mind…

Georgia on my mind…

It is great to be working with the National Wine Agency of Georgia again.

We have a really exciting campaign lined up for 2022 and are hoping that this year we will be able to host a press trip to the abundant, colourful and beautiful lands of Georgia.

We are also delighted to be hosting events on UK soil again.  Sarah Abbott MW is getting ready with an incredible selection of wines, and samples are en route, we are all very much looking forward to that shipment at Swirl!

Please click on the links below to find out more about our UK Trade & Press tastings to be held in April and May:

After a successful launch in 2021, the National Wine Agency of Georgia is continuing to offer a marketing fund to directly support UK indies in expanding their listings and support of Georgian wine through the Indie Alliance Campaign.

Gaumarjos!

 

Wine Unites for Ukraine: a charity auction on 1st-3rd April 2022

Colleagues and friends from the UK wine trade are coming together to donate lots and promote a charity auction to raise funds for humanitarian causes in Ukraine.

The lots are growing daily and there is something for all tastes and budgets. And it’s not only wine: books, experiences, dinners and concerts are up for bids too.

We will be donating all proceeds from this auction to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) which is helping those affected by the crisis.
Check out the auction site and please contact us if you would like to donate a lot, or just to find out more.
Check out the auction site, and keep checking, because new lots are being added daily.
Thank you!

Gunma Craft Sake at Pantechnicon, London

On the 8th March 2022, we held a masterclass for Gunma Craft Sake at Sachi Restaurant in Pantechnicon, London.

The masterclass was led by sake buyer and educator, Christine Parkinson, with Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott. The guests included sake educators, importers and buyers with a high degree of expertise in sake, as well as wine professionals with a high degree of knowledge in wine, but who were at the beginning of their sake journey.

The masterclass featured 6 sake from 6 brewers from the Gunma prefecture of Japan. The brewers joined us by video link from Japan, and were able to answer questions from the guests and almost be in the room with us.

The six breweries are Asama Shuzo, Nagai Sake, Nagaihonke, Ooteneshuzou, Tsuchida, and Seitoku Meijo. Sake production in Gunma is characterised by many small breweries, and diversity of styles. Gunma Sake is comparatively unknown in the UK, but is appreciated in Japan where it is bought by many leading restaurants, as well as by ‘brewery door’ customers.

The great River Tone is fundamental to the quality and style of Gunma Craft Sake. It dominates the epic landscapes, with great river terraces that are the largest in the country. The softness of the water from this river and its tributaries is in the famous softness of Gunma sake. The silky texture of Gunma sake was remarked on by many of the guests at the masterclass.

The sakes shown during the masterclass were:

Asama Shuzo
Junmai Daigino Higen Rei
An example of “terroir sake”, this creamy sake is made from Kairyoshinkou local rice rice that the brewery grows. Christine Parkinson pointed out that it is very unusual for a brewery to grow its own rice. Guests commented on the full and expressive nature of this sake, and the floral aromas which may come from the use of the special Princess Mishiko rose yeast.

Nagai Sake
Mizubasho Yukihotaka Awa Sake
Elegant sparkling sake, bottle fermented using a patented technique developed over many years by Nagai Sake company. Awa Sake is now a recognised and protected category in Japan. Guests commented on the delicate but musky perfume and the fine intensity of this sparkling sake.

Mizubasho Yukihotaka Junmai Daiginjo
This sake has the trademark elegance of Nagai Sake. Guests commented on the refined perfume and round creaminess, and found it very soft and well-balanced.

Nagaihonke
Tonenishiki Koshihikari 90 Junmai Sokujo
This lightly polished sake (just 90% polishing rate) impressed guests with its rich chestnut flavours and rich umami. At 17% alcohol, this is a powerful sake that guests recognised as a good example of the Genshu (undiluted) style.

Ooteneshuzou
Sadaijin Koshihikari Junmaishu
This rich and toasty sake had lovely savoury and figgy notes. Guests really liked its body and “enjoyable astringency” and notes of “black olive”. Made from the local eating rice (koshihikari), this sake has a real savour of steamed rice. Guests also discussed that this sake  – which was served at room temperature  – would be delicious at warmer temperatures.

Seitoku Meijo
Houou Seitoku Junmai Ginjo
This large brewery was formed in 1959 from the merger of 4 older breweries. Compared to the other breweries in this tasting (most of which were founded 4 generations ago), Seitoku Meijo is a young company, but with deep local roots. Guests greatly appreciated the restrained, very drinkable style of this Ginjo and commented on the attractive notes of nuttiness and lychee skin. As Christine Parkinson said, this is not a “melon fest”!

Tsuchida Sake
TE TO TE Junmai Kimoto
Guests really appreciated this characterful sake, made using the traditional Kimoto brewing method. As with Nagaihonke Tonenishiki Koshihikari 90 Junmai, this is a 90% polishing rate sake, and also had pronounced flavours of tasty steamed rice. Guests commented on the pure lactic creaminess of this sake, and the sense of freshness that came from the use of white Koji.

Guests also enjoyed a further 5 sake during lunch, and tasting notes for those sake will be posted next week.

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Our February Newsletter: tech is wine’s new frontier

In our February newsletter we consider wine’s new frontier: technology.

This coming month we have an event which shows how some of the technical adaptations forced on us by the pandemic are here to stay. We’re hosting a Gunma Craft Sake tasting on the 8th March in London, a hybrid event with brewers joining the tasting virtually from Japan. It’s a small example of the hybrids now colonising the event industry – and we think that the wine trade is ready to catch up.

Tech is wine’s new frontier, with all the rewards and hubris of a gold rush. But there’s a sticking point: our trade’s definition of ‘technology’ is imprecise. The ancient Greek tekhnologia (τεχνολογία) referred to the consideration of a systematic whole. And the systematic whole is where wine and tech disintegrate.

As digi-wine expert and 5 Forests founder Polly Hammond pointed out to Sarah at Wine Paris, the reason for this is wine’s fragmented regulatory structure. It prevents the systematic integration of different types of technology, limiting the success of said tech – and also limiting the appetite to invest in tech R&D and implementation in this space to begin with. What’s the motivation to invest when it is impossible to scale up your product globally?

Despite this obstacle, tech is still something we’re positive and excited about. There are areas of our trade where we’re seeing a well-developed, systematic application of scientific knowledge – and it’s happening in vineyards. Take Saturnalia. Using satellite imaging of vineyards, they are seeking to link vineyard practices to the eventual score a wine gets. Now they just need to persuade wineries to allow the publication of the data linking to those vineyards, (but that level of transparency would be worth a whole new newsletter).

A lot of what we think of as ‘wine tech’ is just existing tech applied, currently somewhat awkwardly, to wine.  Founders which have come from other industries were a common theme among the start-ups in the Wine Tech area at Wine Paris a couple of weeks ago. Engineers, gamers, designers. The D-Vine Pro – a new client for us – integrates electronics, engineering and content to address wastage and staff knowledge in wine service, promising to boost wine list profitability alongside customer experience.

Others are applying their tech expertise to wine in one of the most essential areas of the industry: communication.

AI is the basis of two interesting new ventures. The app WineSee, founded by a gaming entrepreneur, aims to make the gathering of wine tasting notes and data seamless and connected. Currently the app is being used for running wine competitions, but they aim to use their data learnings to generate predictive suggestions for consumers. Ultimately, they hope it’ll make the often-confusing world of wine more accessible.

Pix is having MW David Round teach their AI model how to recognise, categorise and recommend wines on their platform. One of the key problems in the wine industry is that data isn’t properly aggregated and linked to CRM systems. At the moment, that’s because the cost of integrating that information is prohibitive given wine’s slim margins. It’s a strange quirk of wine – by all measures a luxury good, full of diversity and specificity – that it’s treated as a low-margin product.

Pix’s AI product could bridge the cost-benefit gap which would bring wine’s communications to the level of comparable industries. So, it makes us question the validity of the heated hostility we see towards tech in wine in general, and AI in particular. Without it, it’ll take us decades to work out the customer journey. And decades to get profits up. And that should worry us all.