Before I start I thought I'd throw a little idea in the hat. What with the spirit of this being a wine club, one thing I'd like to have a bit more is an ongoing conversation (with those who wish to take part). So who would be up for me to setup either a WhatsApp/Signal group or a Slack Group where we'd explore various topics, share our latest finds and experiences, wine trips and recommendations etc? Is it something that sounds interesting to you?
So last week I had to cancel/postpone our Portuguese expedition for family reason (that will always come first of course) but nothing too serious so we're back this week.
I'm running it this Friday now and I have 2 places left so if you couldn't before and you can (and want to) join in now please let me know by Wednesday 5pm so I can prep your kit.
We will have a look at what's happened to the Portugal wine scene of the last few hundred years which will partly explain why the wines are such great value and high quality.
We will explore the various regions of the country, get a feel for the grapes and the syles of wine you could and will experience.
I can drop your kit in Reserve Wines Didsbury from Thursday afternoon or you can collect from my place in Sale anytime you want. If you want me to ship it to you via courier please let me know asap.
In other news, I attended a pretty peculiar, alternative wine tasting on Sunday hosted at Where The Light Gets In in Stockport by 5 ultra-small importers of natural wines. It gave me a lot of wine for thought about this undeniable trend and category, the players and the consumers.
I've been a proponent of Natural wines for as long as I have been into wine (over 10 years now) and to see this category develop has been super interesting, if maybe a touch frustrating at times, but more on that another day. When I attended the Real Wine Fair in London in 2012, I did not see where it would lead.
What attracts me to these products are the environmental angle as well as the "craft", back to basics, no-make-up approach. Why would it not appeal? When you know how many wines on the supermarket shelves (and elsewhere of course) are made, and someone puts in front of you something that rings just more true, it's hard at least not to get curious, to think "what if this thing actually delivers in the glass?". And many times it so did. Some of the most compelling wines I've had were made with nothing added and nothing taken away: totally organic, often biodynamic practices in the vineyard, natural fermentation with wild yeast and no or next to no added sulfur.
The wines have more life, they're persistent, they're more colourful and fun, more complex, they have more to say. I was drinking such a wine only last night. BUT.... it's not always the case. In fact, there haven't been that many. More often, the no-intervention aspect translates in a wine that tastes of its fermentation rather than the grape varieties it's made of and the place it comes from. That doesn't make them bad drinks, but wines of terroir these are not. Those who succeed, sometimes, in getting it right, are typically very experienced and skilled, rarely lucky and indeed can commend a steep price.
Underneath that, there are an increasing number of wines coming to our shelves that are attempting to reach this goal with varying levels of success but still command seriously steep prices. That's partly explained by the fact these guys are working much harder than the standard winemaker and make a lot less wine. We all have to make a living. So for the consumer, the decision becomes: do I value the graft and ethos this guy has put into his wine, even though I could probably get something that tastes more accomplished, better for my money (without sacrificing on the envrionmental credential I hasten to say)?
At this point it's worth pointing out that everything is on a spectrum, something parts of the natural wine's more passionate proponents sometimes forget. You have Gallo and Barefoot at one end, and the most extreme natural wine (grow grapes with just muscle, tools and nature, crush grapes, wait... wine) on the other. 99.9% of the wines are somewhere in between. Compromise is the way of life. With that in mind, back to the point I was making:
The other element I suspect leading to high prices is that the supply chain for these wines is not efficient nor coordinated. There is no economy of scale, groupage buying and no cost-efficiency in the importation. This is a sub-segment of our industry still in its infancy, the players are small with high ideals. Back when wines used to be made that way, there was no global commerce. You drank the wine you made or that your neighbour gave you in exchange for some bread or vegetables. Now, we all want and expect even the smalles of produce from the other side of the world to be available in the next hour. So what do you do? Do you choose to support the small guys and one day, when the businesses have matured and grown, you can rejoice in knowing you had a small part in helping them out?
What might also happen is that some of these wines might not even need another market, like the UK or the US. If production is small, producers probably satisfy themselves with the local demand. So when a British idealist comes knocking asking for wine, he or she simply adds to the demand leading to a higher price tag at source. At this point I'm just thinking out loud really so don't worry if you feel lost, haha.
As a drinker, I am not rich enough to afford an expensive bottle that doesn't taste quite as good as it should for that money but I do value the endeavours at play so it's a fine balance. As a buyer/retailer, I want to be able to look at my customers in the eye and say with honesty: this is a great wine for the price we're selling it at, it is a wine you will get a lot of enjoyment out of if you're that way inclined.
Some of these wines fit the bill, many don't. I can only apply my best judgment in both situations. I do select the wines I sell on the basis of "Would I drink this? And would I pay the asking price for it?" so hopefully, I'm not far off most of the times.
If you have any thoughts or want to ask me anything about any of this, do get in touch!
Have a great evening, and see/speak to you soon.