OFT ruling good for English Wine Producers?

The recent news from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) may well be great news for those producing and selling English Wine. In particular look at their associated “text of principles“.

The news, coming towards the end of last year, slipped over me at the time. I had assumed the supermarkets would just navigate around the OFT’s announcements to deliver business as usual: confusing signage and further feeding of the consumer addiction to the buzz of questionable “on promotion” buying, whilst squeezing producers to support lower prices and promotions. However, last week I talked with a friend of mine who runs a division in a major UK supermarket. He told me the OFT guidance will make a real difference to the way supermarkets price and promote, with immediate impact on internal policies for the big players.

So what differences can be expected? Certainly there is likely to be a ratcheting down in the BOGOF and “X% off” type signage. With 70% of wines sold in the UK on promotion, might there be some changes to that market too? One view is that the consumer will suffer since average prices will rise, though I’m unsure whether consumers will find average shop-basket prices changing much. But for small wine producers (e.g. English Wine) and independent wine retailers, the re-focus in a consumer’s mind on quality-and-authenticity of a product rather than price-and-volume has got to be good. For such players who lack the scale to offer volume-led promotions, it looks like the playing field should start to become a little more level.

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English wine retail

In my new role as interior designer for English Wine retailers (!?), I worked with the Wine Pantry on their new project for an English wine and British produce venue at the bewilderingly beautiful St Pancras station in London. I’m off to the grand opening tonight when I hope to see to what extent the designs have become reality. Well done Julia and others like her for their tireless promotion of quality English Wine.

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Any techies out there might be interested to know I knocked up the designs in Sketchup, which takes a little while to learn but is a lot of fun and extremely powerful.

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Thunder, lightning and a down day

Awakened by thunderous roars, last night I enjoyed an hour of the finest light show I’ve ever see thanks to a huge storm over Kefalonia. Worse was to come. The 7am start worked well as we set up for some pre-planned tasks (draining some rose from one cold-macerating tank to concentrate a red, and crushing and briefly cold-macerating some syrah to then press it out). However, despite appeal on the palate, the colour extraction of both left a lot to be desired meaning the anti-climax of some wasted set-ups and the promise of the same tomorrow when the colour has had more time to emerge. The unusually long period of maceration required left us scratching our heads. So it was on to the excitement of labelling when this happened…..

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…..the heavens truely opened and the steps beside the winery became a waterfall as the entire vineyard run-off passed us by – but the design of the building was good and despite a huge 5.8mm in 1 hour (!yes, really, we measured it!) not a drop passed the threshold of the winery on either level. Some of the rest of the island was not so fortunate, and we saw evidence and heard stories of flooded cars, blocked roads and collapsed sidings.

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Gentilini work

I’m the cellar rat for my vintage work here. The jobs I’ve been getting stuck into are typical for a small/medium winery: cleaning and moving heavy stuff around. In particular I’ve been: racking juice and wine; inocluating and mixing in yeast nutrients; pushing down, splashing and pumping over reds; helping with the crushing and pressing (the latter rarely); receiving grapes; some lab analysis (basic stuff like pH and TA); monitoring ferments (density and temperature); and even a little labelling. I have also been out picking for a couple of mornings, mercifully before the full midday heat. And, of course, there’s been lots of cleaning and moving heavy stuff around. It’s been great experience.

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The winery uses ‘3-ways’ on the hoses to minimse oxidation of the wines. This has taken a bit of getting used to but I’m not pretty much into the ‘tasting-on’ and ‘tasting-off’ routine (I will try to post some pictures and maybe diagrams of that in a few days). I have also been getting used to the hose-to-hose clamps which take a little juggling to start with but I’m nearly there now.

Work times have been varied, but usually 8am-4/5pm, though there have been some 6am starts and many night-time trips back to punch-down and pump-over the reds as late as midnight. I’m pretty tired but with everyone mucking in and a very understanding environment (thanks Mike!) it’s been fine.

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Gentilini folk

For the duration of my Kefalonian stay I’m shacked up with the assistant winemaker and vineyard manager, Giorgios. The accommodation’s really good for vintage standards (wifi and washing machine included, so I’m happy).

I’m joined for some of my stay by fellow recent-ex-student Liz, and the Plumpton winemaker Peter. It’s been a treat to work with them for a bit too.

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Mike the winemaker’s wife, Yvonne, also works here in the lab and at the cellar door. Petros and Marianna work hard too on the sales and management sides of the business, though the irrepressible Petros tries his hand in all areas as needed. The team has made me feel very welcome so far.

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Gentilini Winery and Vineyards

Gentilini is a modern winery producing comtemporary styles of premium wine, although mainly from native Greek grapes. I’m delighted to find myself here since the wines are really lovely. My particular favourite is the Robola varietal wine (a native Kefalonian variety with its own PDO), though several of the reds are superb too.

I’ve found the range of varieties novel and confusing: Robola (rich and lemony, giving juicy, fuller bodies wines); Moschofilero (wonderful bergomot and rose notes); Mavrodafni (high quality reds); Mavrofilero (well, not officially, but whatever it is has a superb raspberry hit and is great in the blends); Agiorgitiko (top quality reds); and so on.

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So far the team here seem teriffic. The owners are very involved in the day to day, though they sensibly let the head winemaker, Mike Jones, call the shots in the winery. Mike’s a real character (ex-Plumpton student, though many vintages ago) and I’m looking forward working with him.

Strangley the wines are not sold in the UK, despite having picked up some decent international awards in past years. Someone’s got to put this right.

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Off to Kefalonia vintage

Off to Kefalonia today for a 4-week work placement to get more vintage experence. I chose an Greek Ionian island because the warm climate, early vintage allows me to get back for anotherĀ  vintage in the UK. It turns out the English vintage is quite late this year and I’ll have a 4 week gap in between.

Perhaps it is somewhat appropriate that my wine “Odyssey” has brought me here.

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