For our readers in english, Marie Ahm (GJE) has written a report about all the seminars of the first edition of the Davos of Wine.
Now with some pictures
Seminar 1: Michel Bettane “Wine Criticism and Ethics”
Michel started the seminar about this steaming hot topic with describing the wine critic as the interface between the wine and the traders/professionals. He then described the evolution of wine journalism in the following 3 steps:
1: The traditional British wine critic, deeply intertwined with the professional trade. Merchants and auctioneers setting standards for the trade based on many years of knowledge of the trade. Basing their trustworthiness on professionalism and honesty over long time. No real separation between trade professionals and journalists. Good example hereof are the numerous MW’s involved in the trade.
The great discussions about the quality of the 1982 vintage let to a change and emerge of 2 different currents of critics….
2: The consumer focused primarily American journalists. Speaking about price/quality for a change and thereby touching a new group of consumers. Looking for the best wine for the best price. Focusing on spreading knowledge and giving everybody a chance to develop their own personal taste.
3: The trade individuals and consumers using the “right” to communicate your own opinion about a wine. This group have with the new methods of communication as internet, blogs, forums etc created world wide communities, a “new order” but also an excess of information including loads of miscommunication.
This categorization led to a discussion on today’s lack of ethics and lacking code of conduct. How to maintain a high level of knowledge and professionalism? How to ensure professionalism overall? How do we ensure criticism with strength and freedom of speech at the same time?
We need serious moral and a defined code of conduct based on following 3 simple but fundamental basics:
1. Good knowledge. In-depth knowledge of the product and trade. Diverse and profound knowledge of the product in all its different forms and aspects. This has to be continually developed by training and ongoing studies.
2. Importance of words used. Taste is the most important “organ” used for wine journalism. We all have different genetics and personal differences taste-wise. This can be solved and levelled out by communication, but requires a huge focus on development of communication skills. Every description has to be clear, precise and sensible; giving same meaning for all. There has to be a relation between words and psychology of the writer and the reader. Criticism has to be measured as a positive thing, a way of creating an understanding. One should never loose sight of reality, but always keep in mind how important the precise description is to ensure clear and useful communication.
3. Moral towards oneself. Journalist’s interests are often seriously biased. Merchant / journalist = one and same person. These persons are in general very professional but a doubt of conflicts of interests always exists.
It is of extreme importance to always be independent and judge against one’s own self esteem; follow one’s own heart and beliefs. Resist temptation to follow your consumer’s wishes or demands, to remain “oneself”.
Judging of wine is too often affected by political or traditional reasons and not only by the taste itself. Here could be mentioned the current movement towards “natural wine”. Accepting oxidised rustic wines as good, just because they are ideologically seen as “good”.
We have to leave this ideological way of assessing wines and only focus on the actual quality we have in the glass! And also have awareness of our own ability to taste; using our body’s instruments with respect and sensibility.
Several questions and discussions arose following the moderation by Enzo Vizzari that stressed that each one of us in our own world have to respond to our own situation and moral. We have to take a stand and make our opinion clear. Enzo also mentioned today’s excess of persons speaking biased about things they do not have the in-depth knowledge of. There is today too much information about everything and nothing!
It is impossible to avoid mixing roles, but the professionalism and moral should always come in first place. We should all keep a layman’s attitude; a humble and honest approach. Stick to our own opinion and be open for discussions. Real independence and transparency is the key!
A question about the need of a formal study as wine critic was raised by Gil Lempert-Schwarz and Michel Bettane replied that indeed education is needed, but that there will always be a fundamental problem here with the conflict between education and the freedom of speech/fundamental freedom. We have to be moderate and make an effort to use this freedom with honesty.
Another topic came up: is wine is judged for trading or for drinking purposes? If points given are an absolute? Whether wines not should be ranked within a context (region/vintage)? And scores given be used for ranking within this context?
The discussion continued with Stephane Derenoncourt’s comment: What does a wine critic like and what does the consumer like? Who are today’s scoring systems made for?
The discussion could have continued for hours and even days… This subject indeed is relevant!
Seminar 2: Philippe Duval, the SAQ.
Philippe Duval is president of the Quebec alcohol monopoly called the SAQ; Société des Alcools du Québec and gave us in his seminar first a very good overview of the SAQ. First a few hard facts about the SAQ: they have 10.000 different products from 2500 suppliers from 60 different countries and accumulate a yearly turnover of 2,5 billion. Wine accounts for 77.7% of the sales, 14.9% is spirits and the rest beer and other alc. beverages. The monopoly is as such owned by the Quebec people and profits from the sales are returned to the Quebec community. Philippe Duval explained us that one of the reasons behind the SAQ’s continuous success is the fact that is run as private company even though it is state owned. There is a huge focus on broadcasting a retail network based on expertise and knowledge.
A very well made short video was shown to give us a visual introduction to the SAQ and it was made very clear that the core values of the company is professionalism, expertise, contribution, dynamic and passion; a question of quality in all aspects!
Philippe Duval divided the vision and practise of the SAQ into four axes:
1st Axe: Passion and work ethics:
The word passion was repeated again and again throughout the seminar and was defined like passion for sharing the pleasure of wine. Passion about the business; a wish of becoming the best, most innovative and most professional retail chain of wine.
Another thing that was highly emphasized was the work-ethics; often a sensitive subject when it comes to state owned monopolies, but Philippe Duval emphasized the value and efficiency of their well implemented system to avoid redundancy towards this problem and also mentioned a very effective cost reducing system. It seemed very clear that nothing in the organization of the SAQ is random. Every single action, idea and system seems to be very well though trough, have a meaning and very importantly make the company successful and highly appreciated by the Quebec people, the customers.
2nd Axe: The people, the employees:
The employees working at SAQ are not just sales people, but wine experts sharing their knowledge and passion with the customers. They have a very dynamic approach to knowledge and 6% of all salaries are used on ongoing education. This is one of the clear reasons why the SAQ has a 79% customer satisfaction rate according to Philippe Duval.
3rd Axe: The knowledgeable consumer:
Attention to the fact that increasing knowledge amongst consumers creates a need for increasing knowledge of the employees has resulted in several customer surveys and ongoing monitoring of the sales plus approach and choice of the customers.
The SAQ customers can be divided into different groups that all need to be approached and treated differently. Awareness of the fact that several different customer types all need to be able have a satisfactory experience in the same shop creates a huge need for respect and patience with all customers. The main group of customers accounting for 29-52% of all sales are very knowledgeable customers that have high demands in all aspects and acknowledging this fact keeps the SAQ employees constantly active with training.
It was also here emphasized that all 414 existing shops should provide the customers with a social buying experience and see themselves as a centres for sharing of information and passion.
4th Axe: Marketing and promotion:
SAQ has a need to maintain the image and credibility on the market and invests a lot in marketing. They have amongst others their own magazine and offers wine courses to customers plus focus a lot on total corporate transparency.
They want to make the universe of wine accessible to everyone, to open the doors, to share and develop.
They recently invented a “new language” to simplify the buying experience the “Pastille de Gout” or “coloured spots/dots” that easily divides all wines into different categories and groups according to style. This was used as an example of the huge importance of monitoring customer behaviour to create a true and useful base for innovation, development and improvement.
SAQ really does work for their vision of becoming the world leader in wine retail and wholesale!
Here Philippe Duval stopped his presentation and the Q & A started.
Philippe was asked about possible plans for worldwide expansion and he replied that yes; the vision of the SAQ was to become the worldwide leader in wine retail and wholesale and in innovation! But emphasized again that the customers will decide the future of the SAQ. He sees his company’s most important role as helping the customers and secondly being a highly profitable company.1st goal is to satisfy the Quebec people, 2nd goal is to analyze and start business in other markets and make profit there.
Then he was asked about the SAQ’s approach to allocation and sale of fine wines and he explained that even rare and fine wines were sold with a fixed margin and by lottery to the customers. He also mentioned that the pricing system works with a fixed margin % based on the buying price of the wine. This system makes expensive wines cheaper than in the other states of Canada and cheaper wines the same, but again here noted their focus on adding extra value to all products “not only a bottle”.
A question was asked about the risk for corruption and Philippe Duval replied that a rigid system to avoid this was implemented years ago and in addition a very strict code of conduct.
The delicate subject of the increasing demand for champagne and the possible need for partnerships to increase and maintain allocations was touched. Partnerships can be seen as biased and has never before been common practice for the SAQ, but Philippe Duval acknowledged the need for a change. A need for partnerships and a need to get rid of arrogance!
He was also asked about the approach to journalists and explained that they tried to keep a certain distance to the wine journalists but of course needed to follow them in a certain way as they do impact costumer behaviour.
Finally he was asked about today’s role of the agent and he said that they focused on having the direct contact with the producers, but that the role of the agent has also changed and was now more like a helper than an intermediary for both them as buyer and for the producers.
Philippe Duval, Président de la SAQ
Seminar 3: Willy Klinger, Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board on the development of the wine tourism in Austria.
Willi Klinger started giving a small overview of Austria and the role of tourism: 6.1% of the GNP is tourism which makes Austria number 8 in Europe and 12th worldwide when it comes to tourisms part of the GNP. 71% of the tourist are international and they generate yearly 13.6 billion €. Out of all this wine tourism accounts for 5%.
He showed a very humours presentation that took us through Austria mentioning the main parameters behind Austria’s success as a (wine) tourist destination. Main points were: wine is a part of Austrian culture! Salzburg and Vienna are centres of tourism that focuses on architecture, music and nature. Austria has a long history and world heritage vineyard sites in Wachau, Kamptal and Steiermark.
He emphasized again the role of the beauty of the nature and the cool climate that plays a huge role for both the wine production and the winter tourism. Austria produces 250 mill litre of wine and consumes 250 mill litres of wine, but 60 mill litres is exported today anyway! 50.000 HA are in production and 6.000 estates are bottling wine (in contrary to 164.000 HA and 2.200 estates in Australia!)
Some of the strong selling points for Austria wine tourism are:
Healthy and hearty food
Beautiful hotels and nature
Spas; wellness tourism
Plus; “Austrians are fun!” (and the whole room laughed as a slide of a bunch of partying wine drinking Austrians in traditional costumes was blasted up on the screen!
He illustrated the clear difference between Austria and the “rest of the world” like this:
Austria: Authentic, artisanal, family, individual and natural
Worldwide: Commercial, industrialized, big companies, uniform and technical.
Austria also leads when it comes to organic and integrated agriculture and viticulture with 16% totally being organic (3-10% of the viticulture) and 75% being integrated.
Willy Klinger then moved on the importance of the Austrian wine culture being popular and not elite, that drinking local wines from Riedel glasses is a common and normal part of the everyday life!
This combined with the dynamic and young wine scene is what makes Austria strong and interesting as a tourist destination. The general high quality of the wines as a clear result of the well educated, international and dynamic wine producers is also a key point.
Then he finally added on the importance of manifesting identify with indigenous grape varieties and pointed out that Austria has ideal conditions for Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Muskateller, Blauer Zweigelt, Blaufränkish and St. Laurent amongst others.
Then Gil Lempert-Schwarz as the moderator put to question if Austria had enough “super star wines” to become “really” famous as wine country and the reply from Dirk Van der Niepoort was if Austria really needed those super stars? If Austria had not already had an impressive success in what they do? And as a wine tourism destination indeed? Dirk also mentioned the impressive fact that in Austria the success had only been possible because of an unusually strong collaboration in-between producers, government and larger companies. Something that is not seen in many other wine producing countries.
Willy Klinger said that there was of course a need for continuous improvement in the search for “perfection of the wine tourism”! Furthermore he said that it was crucial to keep on promoting local wines at the best restaurants and only export the best quality. The strategy of branding Austria as a high quality niche/boutique wine producing country should be enforced by excellence in every field; excellence in wine, in service and in communication.
Elin McCoy ended the seminar asking (or actually stating) if Austria did not already had their super star in form of the Grüner Veltliner? She saw the variety itself as the door opener for Austria as a whole. She mentioned that she noticed the “new” young consumers in the States taking a great interest in “unknown” varieties and also found the Austrian Grüner Veltliner taste-wise perfect for this upcoming consumer group.
Seminar 4: Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm, the VDP classification systems as marketing tools for approaching new markets.
Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm, President of the VDP (verband deutscher prädikatsweingüter ) started by stating that Germany in some way was an emerging wine country, or re-emerging more correctly. The new emerging classification systems of the VDP have created new styles of wines and new terms that need to be marketed and explained across the world. More specifically here speaking about the Erste Lage (First Growth or Grand Cru) classification of the best vineyard sites and the Großes Gewächs or GG classification of the best dry ( max 9 g. sugar/l) wines from the Erste Lage sites.
To explain the need for these new classification systems and re-branding of Germany Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm gave us a brief review of the German wine classification history.
VDP was founded in 1910 as the first wine high quality producer organization in Germany with 161 members. In 1991 severe changes was made to ensure a consistent high quality of the associated estates and 65 estates was kicked out. Today the VDP has 196 members that cover 4% of Germanys entire winegrowing area equivalent to ca. 4000 HA. (9.900 acres) 54% of these 4000 HA are planted with Riesling in contrary to the 21% that Riesling covers of entire Germany.
Then in 1971 the new German wine law was implemented and caused nothing but problems for the VDP estates and German wine in general, especially on export markets because it is: too complicated, negative, difficult to understand and creates a labelling hell!
Wanting to fight for the image and success for German quality wines the VDP in 2001 created a new system on their own to make it easier for the consumer and to ensure quality:
The VDP members are accepted into the organization judged upon the quality of the estate (Bordeaux style classification) and the Erste Lage vineyard sites are judged upon individual site quality (Burgundy style classification) and these were then combined to create following quality classification system:
1 ERSTE LAGE: wines from best vineyard sites from VDP producers.
2 GROßES GEWÄCHS: dry wines from best vineyard sites from VDP producers.
(sweeter styles of wines from Erste Lage sites uses the well known “prädikats” kabinett, spätlese, auslese etc)
3: Orts- & Terroir wines, classified as wines of superior quality. “Village”
4: Guts weine/wines
These 4 categories applies to all regions in Germany and have clear rules as to yields, varieties, packaging, release dates etc.
Here Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm gave the word to Bernard Burtschy, moderator of the seminar that started a longer explanation about the nature of classification systems. Some of the main points were:
1:They are very hard to implement and unpopular in the beginning, but then with time becomes very popular and everyone wants to join.
2: They are too wide and are they really a guarantee for quality in general?
3. They build on criteria that is old-fashioned and not up-to date at all. They are a frozen picture of how the situation was when the appellation was founded.
Bernard then asked the question if an appellation can be a brand? And here contrasting the French and German classification system, ending with the conclusion that the French AOC system is no longer guarantee for quality whereas the German VDP classification systems are. Interesting fact to mention is that 55% of all wine producing area in France is classified within the AOC system, in Germany as mentioned; only 4% is classified by VDP.
This led into a longer discussion on quality assessment of vineyard sites in general; if the appellations in general ensure quality and what happen if governmental powers take over the administration of the appellation system in the future. What about the absence of protection; laws or more simple agreements? Here speaking about the exclusivity of an appellation e.g. Champagne. This all finally led to the conclusion that there is still a lack of agreements of styles of wines in Germany. Clear definitions of kabinett, spätlese etc is needed.
The seminar finished with a question on how to ensure the quality of wines from Erste Lage and protecting this classification from vulgarization and Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm rounded everything of by stating that keeping VDP on private hands will be a guarantee to ensure the quality in the future. To ensure that the terms VDP + Erste Lage and Großes Gewächs really are only to be found on wines from the best producers and the best sites.
Une assistance nombreuse et studieuse
Seminar 5: Angelo Gaja; the evolution of Italian wine.
Always energetic Angelo Gaja seemed to be in top shape and started his full speed seminar with a small presentation of himself, his company and Piemonte as region. His family company was founded in 1859 and had dedicated all these past 150 years to Nebbiolo. The region has always had an immense concentration of producers/growers with a great knowledge of terroir, but has due to the climate originally difficulties reaching proper ripeness in most years. This has changed now due to the climate change and almost every single vintage since 1995 has been ripe. Especially the last 10 vintages have shown extraordinary quality which has created great optimism.
Angelo Gaja spoke very passionately about Piemonte’s richness in great vineyards as something magic! Unmatched anywhere else in the world. The most spectacular region that exists! Piemonte is a region with both a long history and identity and high quality (800 years of growing Nebbiolo) and a great promising future.
Angelo Gaja here briefly contrasted Piemonte and Tuscany; calling them two very complimentary regions and not competitive in any way. Piemonte produces many great and different wines from one variety whereas Tuscany produces many great wines from many different varieties, both indigenous and international. He then returned to a more detailed description of his family’s history in Piemonte starting with his great-grandfather Giovanni Gaja that dedicated his life to improvement of quality of the vineyards, something that was highly needed as 4 out of 10 vintages at that time were too bad and was literally thrown away. Angelo Gaja’s father then started branding the name “GAJA” and not only Barbaresco, but “Barbaresco from Gaja” to show that Barbaresco could also be of good quality. (Barbaresco did not have a good reputation in the old days). This finally resulted in the launch of the new label design we all know today, with “GAJA” stated much bigger than “Barbaresco”.
Angelo Gaja then continued explaining about the big change that the region has experiencing the past 30 years with a huge focus on production of high quality wines. Here also mentioning the general quality improvement all over Europe the past 30 years and that the “New World” has learned much about understanding of terroir and originality from Europe, but that he was sad to see now the counter wise influence from the “New World” on European wines, making them richer and less elegant. He explained that the richer more opulent style of wine is easier to understand and enjoy for inexperienced tasters and that really good tasters are needed to understand elegant wines. He emphasized the need for promoting elegant wines for their finesse and delicate complexity, but recognized that the problem might be that they are more difficult to put words on and to explain and describe than the more opulent wines.
Here he started a hilariously funny comparison of Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo that left the entire room laughing for a very long time! Cabernet Sauvignon as John Wayne; a man filling the room, the centre of attention, big and bold “beef, lam, lam, beef”, safe, big and simple and satisfying his woman each night! Whereas Marcello Mastroianni was used as the picture of Nebbiolo; the shy, noble and intelligent man that made the women at his side queens! A closed book, always hiding… The elegant wine that creates music together with food.
When we had all stopped laughing (took some time… ) Angelo Gaja was asked about his opinion about the financial crisis. His immediately reply was that the crisis was there and real, but not the wine producers fault (!) and that he expected to see clear changes towards more optimism late 2010. However he found it much more important to state that “Luxury starts where needs ends” and that wine is luxury and luxury is fantasy and dreams… Luxury is never ending and the power of luxury wines lies within this. “You are the power, you! Close to the wine, understanding the role it plays in culture…” was his strong and impactful words to us.
He was then asked about his opinion about the global warming and replied that we should all look at the positive sides of it instead of the negative. That there of course might be a need for the implementation of new varieties in some regions but that the change of climate has been positive for many regions too, there amongst Piemonte. Being a cool Northern region with late ripening varieties it really had only benefitted from the increasing temperature and would only continue to do so in the future. He emphasized that alcohol in wine is a good thing (if not exaggerated of course). It is basically transformed sugar supported by some 7-800 other substances. He wanted to measure wine for its natural qualities and fight for quality wine! He very strongly spoke about being against the “alcohol frightened people” and seeing this alcohol fright as a danger for the future, a danger of loss of quality concerned consumers. He thought that the governments are making a great mistake by painting this black-white picture of alcohol being only bad; distinction is need! Wine versus other alcoholic beverages to protect the future world of wine. There is a need for awareness against intolerance in our industry; a tolerance and respect for other producers too.
Angelo Gaja ended this energetic high speed seminar that left the translators severely frustrated many times by stating, “That we must all be strong enough to single out. We must trust and believe ourselves and never stand still but be progressive and innovative. It is a question of life of philosophy, not just money!” … “A re-united Europe of good producers fighting for success, respect
” … “I believe in the future of Italy, based on passion and diversity. A land of great opportunities, variety and diversity with white wines being the next step of progress.”
Seminar 6: Ivanhoé Johnston, the negociants of Bordeaux; did they all develop out from what Maison Johnston started?
Ivanhoé Johnston first explained us briefly about his family company Nath. Johnston & Fils that was founded in 1734 and was now in the hands of the 9th generation. He then showed us a multitude of old very interesting documents to give us a idea of how the trade of fine Bordeaux wines was in the old days. Amongst these was one explaining the “Vinification of the New French Claret at Chateaux Margaux” and several other documents from the beginning of the classification of the Cru’s. Especially one was interesting, a document from 1810 defining Lafite, Lator, Margaux and Haut-Brion as the 4 main Cru’s. Many curious details was derived from the old documents, e.g. that it was clear that because of the fact that Bordeaux wines at this time was left pure and light it was common to add Italian and Spanish wines to give colour and strength.
He showed detailed data on volumes and prices back to vintage 1813 showing an interesting doubling of prices from 1813-14. From the old shipment documents we saw that a certain kind of self-justice was common when it came to duties and customs and also blending of wines to create bigger volumes! One document showed that Mouton, Lafite and Margaux was blended together to create a bigger volume in one year and in several years Nath. Johnston bought the entire production from several Chateaux.
Many things changed in 1855 with the heavy promotion of Bordeaux wines for the world exhibition and the classification of the Cru’s, which led to an increase of production. This positive tendency was further strengthened by the arrival of the train and the development of the export markets UK, USA and Russia. 1850-70 was a golden period and created a huge increase in business for Nath. Johnston.
Then in 1882 the plagues arrived; mildew and phylloxera, the American prohibition from 1919-1933, the Russian revolution and the 1929 Crisis, which all together created a total loss of markets and a considerable drop of prices and production.
Many Chateaux was left with huge stocks and on top of this the 1st WW started. At this time one barrel of Bordeaux was sold for 54£ and one barrel of Beaujolais for 55£!
Then in 1945 things started again with the development of the exports to UK, USA and Canada, which was supported by a growing interest for wine plus a better economy. Also, at this time, the allocation system was developed; meaning that you bought e.g. 10% of the harvest one year to be entitled to buy 10% the next year, no matter the quality of the vintage. This system created many problems for customers in 1991 & 1992 because of the bad quality of these two vintages and this again created a loss of allocations and dramatic shifts in the market.
Here Steven Spurrier took over by speaking briefly about UK’s role as purchaser of Bordeaux and the long and close historical relationship between UK and Bordeaux. This led into a discussion about the sale of weaker vintages, the so-called “restaurant- vintages” that customers buy only to keep their allocation for coming vintages, but that is usually always sold for 2nd batch prices.
Steven Spurrier ended the seminar pointing out that this is a common responsibility for the trade and that we all need to work on the quality of the trade.
Un vrai gentleman : Steven Spurrier
Seminar 7: Jacques Berthomeau; the world of wine and the governmental administrations; conflict or understanding?
Jacques Berthomeau started introducing himself and explaining about his experience in the world of wine. He has a “double-personality” blogging at night and working with wine administration at day. He is now working with both French national administration and UE administration and has a background in sales of wine and played a big role in mending the conflict between France and Italy (agreeing on the common UE legislation for wine).
He explained us that the early UE wine politics was initially based on French legislation and politics which was what created the “war” between France and Italy because practically everything was allowed in Italy’s former system as they “just wanted to export” whereas France had a much more rigid, but good traditional system with other focus than Italy. It demanded many comprises from both sides to mend this fight and reach agreement on what is today’s existing EU wine legislation. The implementation of this new set of rules demanded more intense regulation in some markets than others and created a big demand for checks against fraud and also regular quality checks.
Jacques Berthomeau the asked “So is the administration too heavily regulated? Is it really necessary to have these “fames” to avoid fraud and “wars” ? “
Jacques Berthomeau recommended seeing the system as something positive, a system with values behind each initiative. A system to ensure a good and mutually beneficial relationship behind agriculture/viticulture and administration.
He mentioned here that there sometimes arose great difficulties and conflicts as the legislation for agriculture sometimes was made as “one” and not separately for viticulture. He here mentioned the problems with the bio-legislation that was run by people from agriculture of other bio-products than wine. The problem here is of course the lack of understanding and knowledge about wine of the people behind the legislation, also for bio-wine.
Jacques Berthomeau them moved on to the question of conflicts between national interests and UE interests and recommended us all to express our views and be open for comprise if we want to have influence and affect decisions. It is important to exercise pressure and highly important to speak up and make attention but at the same time stay attached to the local region and traditions. For the region to speak with one voice! Join a common cause and join forces; help each other to get heard. 1. Do not just analyse 2. Propose solutions 3. What do we have in common? 4. What can we do to make our voices heard?
Jacques Berthomeau rounded up his seminar with stressing the need for maintaining focus on producing intelligence and know how and also emphasized the importance of speaking up to maintain position and privileges. Integrating public emotion into debate and decision making…
Then the moderator Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, UE deputy took over and underlined how important it was that the administration listens to and watch what is going on in the wine world and also said that initiatives from the producers side always was welcomed as a positive thing. She continued lining up that the main task for the UE wine administration is to prepare for the future to ensure success and sustainability. Dialogue between administration and producers are highly important to ensure this and she mentioned that a team of specialists working as a link between the producers and the regulative body already exists. She then described the European politics as strategies for the future with a global view to structure and manifest Europe as an entity. “The UE representatives are there to make your voice heard! They were elected by you and work for you; use them!”
She recommended us all to use World Wine Symposium for creating a shared goal and a structure for the future and said, “It will be crucially important to revamp the agricultural future. We stand before a huge change; an option of change. A change for the better; let us use this chance to create a future for us all…”
A comment was made on the need for a re-organization in France and also a question on how to stop the decrease in wine consumption and Elisabeth Morin-Chartier replied that yes, there was need for both action and changes within France and within the UE. Michel Bettane rounded the seminar off pointing out that it was hugely important to keep wine and other alcoholic beverages separate and underlined again the cultural importance of wine as a special heritage.
Seminar 8: Jean-Robert Pitte, Wine; beverage of European identity and its rapprochement to the world’s different cultures.
This great seminar was started by saying that “the voice of the wine world must be heard clearly”… “wine is culture and our history” and Jean-Robert Pitte then continued directly into a discussion on the problems that prohibition of alcohol creates, comparing the American prohibition to dismantling an atom bomb!
He said that the increasing consumption of alcohol amongst young people was a mental cultural problem and that there was a huge need for educating people to wine when they were young. To show them the culture and beauty of wine and make the difference between wine and other alcoholic beverages clear.
“Wine is the taste of life itself and the heart of our culture” and there is an urgent need to share this with the young generations and also the new consumers in Asia etc. We all have to spread the message that wine equals happiness, love, joy, passion and multiplication of mankind!
He then came with numerous examples of wine as a part of our also ancient culture and religion. That wine in ancient cultures was seen as the way to get in contact with God and that our ancient Kings governed while they were drunk to be able to speak the voice of God. All over the world fermented natural beverages has been consumed since ancient times and Jean-Robert Pitte mentioned the Jews spreading the culture of wine everywhere they went and also that there are more than 400 mentions of wine in the Bible; wine – life –truth = the basics of our culture. “Wine brings us closer to the secrets of life!”
Throughout history consumption of wine has been based on responsibility; use with joy and do not abuse, and this is the message is what we need to pass on to new consumers. He even went as far as to comparing the Muslim prohibition of wine with the American Prohibition (1919-1933) giving the same side effects on culture and continued explaining that passing a glass of wine round amongst friends was in ancient times seem as sharing a part of God. That through wine God transcends to earth and passes on his heavenly powers to us. Wine is the blood of Christ and both in ancient Greek and Jewish culture wine was seen as something divine, as God.
He said that we Europeans as inhabitants of this ancient culture have always brought these values with us wherever we went. Back in ancient times vines were planted or wine shipped wherever we set foot. Wine has always been following the European people and culture around the world. Even Columbus planted vines in the “New World”! Wine was THE noble drink at that time as today and a deeply integrated part of our culture.
The only reason for wine not to have spread too far east is because of the Eastern culture of the magic plant of rice (magic because it is useful in both liquid and solid form) and then as still today is used in both liquid form, fermented into different kinds of rice wine and distillates and in solid form as the base ingredient in the diet.
Jean-Robert Pitte then moved on by asking us to see the globalization as something positive and that we should never see China’s wine production as a danger but more as a positive process that is helping us spreading the culture of wine also to the Eastern part of the world.
He then came back to the earlier mentioned subject of the wine culture being in danger. The wine consumption in the traditional producing countries is going down and wine is more and more seen “just” as an alcoholic beverage and therefore unhealthy and dangerous. He emphasized again the need to distinguish between enjoyment of wine and abuse of spirits and drugs and once more drew parallels between today’s movement against alcohol and the American prohibition. There is need for attention here! Wine consumption is going down in countries with an ancient culture about wine, but in the same countries we see increasing problems with alcoholism. These problems need to be attended. Spain has seen a 40% decrease in wine consumption over the last 5 years but at the same time an increase of cardiovascular diseases… There is a huge and urgent need for lobbying activity to combine wine-food-culture-music etc… We need to struggle to keep the “old” virtues.
The seminar was finished with following comment from N.K. Yong, former heart surgeon from Singapore and wine lover saying that we already have enough facts proofing that wine helps against cardiovascular diseases… We just have to use these facts!
Seminar 9: Olivier Humbrecht, biodynamic in viticulture.
Oliver Humbrecht, Master of Wine and winemaker at Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, is also the president of SIVCBD, Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique/ECOVIN. He started giving us a few facts about the CIVCBD and then a brief introduction to the history and philosophy behind biodynamic and in particular Rudolf Steiner’s holistic ideas of a nature in balance. He then told us his own story of how he became interested in the biodynamic viticulture. He himself in the begining had no idea about biodynamic but experimentally began reducing chemical treatments and increasing the use of natural compost and some biodynamic treatments just after taking over the family estate. He immediately obtained good results but did not understand why, but anyhow decided in 1996-1998 to make a total conversion to biodynamic.
He explained biodynamic as a way of understanding the nature, but not always scientifically. The biodynamic theories are based on ancient mythology and perception of the nature and origin of life, but he himself has decided to take a more practical approach to biodynamic, simply because he can see that it works and is continually trying to get a better understanding of why it is so. Olivier Humbrecht emphasized that he did not chose biodynamic because it was fashionable, but because he wanted to preserve the fertility of the soil. He said that it is important to understand the physiology of the plant and its surroundings and explained that a plant is an unconscious organism created of the elements water and mineral and that we by adding “conscience” =the element fire can create humanity and balance. He also explained the symbolism of plants that are used to classify them into different groups according to their characteristics. He also touched the symbolism and influence of the planets briefly but again said that he could not explain completely why and how it all works but just that it gives him really good results!
He then went on to Rudolf Steiner’s theory of up-grading soil and plant life by adding mineral/vegetal/animal products = the “bio” part and the application of these preparations according to the annual cycle = the “dynamic” part. He said that the idea behind dissolving cows dung, left in a horn underground all winter, in water and spraying this onto the vines is that this water is brought to life, it has become dynamized! That you are transferring the power of the soil and earth to the plant.
He said that he in 2003 made an experiment of using this above mentioned biodynamic preparation called “500” in one vineyard and conventional preparations in another and saw a huge difference and tried to explain it the following way: The molecules in the cow’s dung change over winter and they start acting like a carrier of energy and as a message bringer from the soil. This message and energy is then absorbed by the water as the dung is dissolved and the message from the soil is finally received by the plant as the “dynamized water” is sprayed onto them. He here briefly mentioned that Sulphur is a natural mineral from the core of the Earth and is ok in limited amounts.
He also mentioned a study of molecules in conventionally and biodynamically grown wines. The result here was that they reacted very differently. For example were the tannins more healthy in the biodynamically grown grapes; they were more mature and properly ripe.
The seminar ended with a question about the costs of changing to biodynamic and Olivier Humbrecht said that he had had to increase staff from 6 to 24 persons plus that the biodynamic treatments were more expensive than conventional treatments, but that the increase of costs was most heavy in the beginning and that it in the long run was a matter of habit.
Seminar 10: Stéphane Derenoncourt & Patrick Sabaté, new technologies of the wine world; vineyard and cellar & Cork; what will be the future?
Stéphane Derenoncourt opened his seminar speaking about the general opinion and reaction towards new technologies. That some people believing in emotional/ traditional knowledge are always very reluctant and other people believing in scientific knowledge are more open and have a greater interest in new developments.
He explained us that the first real change in winemaking techniques and equipment and the mindset towards these came, in his region of Bordeaux, just after 1st World War with people abandoning imperial knowledge and adapting more to scientific knowledge. However; there was at this time a great problem with transport of knowledge, which meant that even the most useful new techniques and discoveries did not get out to a bigger group of producers very quickly.
This general change of mind-set led into a period of a lot of “testing” with new techniques and approach to fertilizers etc which eventually resulted in many bad wines flooding the market. This led to a demand from consumers and retailers for better wines and caused a movement for quality and we see that from the vintage 1982 and onwards there has been a big focus on quality.
A “new” generation of winemakers, amongst others Stephan Neipperg and Hubert de Boüard, started replanting using new spacing principles in the vineyards, new training methods and also new techniques in the cellar. For example was the first “green harvest” done at Canon-Gaffeliere in 1995. It became more and more common to do a thinning of the leaves to makes grapes visible in order to make it possible to do a better selection of grapes. This technique of thinning the leaves also made it easier to better manage the ripeness of the grapes and in addition sorting tables (even with vibration) was introduced at this time in the search for better quality. A 3rd effect of the leaf thinning was better ventilation within the plant and therefore fewer problems with diseases. Mechanical de-stemmers took over from manual de-stemming and became more and more popular.
Then came the era of the “garage-wines” with only 3-4 HA used for the production of one single wine in the search for perfection. Many of these wines were “technical wines” made by people that wanted to make themselves interesting and was experimenting at max.
Today many of all these techniques are common practice and even leaf thinning and harvest is done mechanically to a great extend. It is getting more and difficult to taste the difference between wines made from hand and machine processed grapes and there are sometimes no differences at all.
Now he asked the question could be if we can make better wines with machines and techniques? This a cultural issue and has to be given much attention. We can today alter a wine in almost any way we wish, but is it correct to do so? Do we want wine to be a natural or a man-made “technical” product?
There is today a big difference in-between the small and the big estates when it comes to technical equipment as this is very expensive; so it is most often a question of who has the money to renew equipment and not only who wants to produce “technical” or “natural” wines.
A positive result of all this has been the rise of a new spiritual movement amongst both winemakers and consumers looking to find the perfect balance between modern and handmade.
Here Patrick Sabaté took over and gave us an overview of the news from the cork business. He said that he as cork producer wanted to give the best service possible when it comes to finding the right cork for the wine in question and that there today is being heavily invested in organic cork plantations to be able to supply the industry with certified clean organic corks. Today it is possible to clean or treat corks with oxygenated water to remove any risk for TCA, but we do not know the long-term effect of this treatment and a 100% non-chemical alternative needs to be found.
There is a global trend for sustainable solutions and finding a future proof solution for pure and clean cork is very much needed and possible indeed… We have today both the knowledge and techniques needed to produce TCA free corks…
The seminar ended with a discussion about the question whether today’s “great” vintages will last as well and develop the same way as the great old vintages? If the “technically” correct wines of today has the same ageing potential as the “traditionally” made wines?
Seminar 11: Christian Roger, wine & money.
Christian Roger began explaining about his own start in this field of fine wine as investment and explained that it all started with the urge of creating a structure for investing in high quality wine, to use investment as back-up for buying entire or parts of cellars or even single cases and bottles. His first wine fund was quite small but now after the creation of many additional funds he is running one of Europe’s biggest existing funds, the SICAV in Luxembourg. Now, how can investment in fine wine be structured taking the great price variation that exists into consideration? He said that by only in the ”crème de la crème”, only about 150 different labels, but in many different vintages a certain stability of investment is possible. He does not buy en-primeur and sell before the wines are released, but keep wines for a longer period of time till they are ready to drink and at their optimum. He however, focuses mainly on the great vintages of the greatest wines and not so much on the en-primeur business. Storage conditions need to be impeccable as many wines stay for a very long period of time in the cellar before either sold again at perfect maturity state.
Wine is a unique product; the only agro-food product without expiration. A product with no immediate decay due to oxidation and a product that improves over long time. His focus is on long-lived wines, as the rarity of the finest wines in the world play a significant role over time. He came here with the example of the huge price difference in-between Sassicaia 1985(800-1000€) & 1986 (100€) that is caused mainly by the much smaller amount of bottles of the 85 available and not so much the actual quality of the vintage.
The market of collector/rare wines is very particular. The supply cannot be increased and the number of bottles produced in e.g. Bordeaux and Burgundy will not increase in the future, but the demand is increasing. All these factors influence the potential of wine as an investment option.
One of Christian Roger’s newest ideas has been to offer some of the world best restaurants to store a selection the investment wines at their premises to be able to offer some of the worlds finest and rarest wine to their customers and then only pay for the bottles as they are sold. This kind of selling under consignment is a great help for the restaurants and a more dynamic way of creating value within the funds.
Then the moderator Paolo Cristofolini, an investor from Monaco took over and stated that the main purpose of wine investment is to make money! And that any bottle should therefore be sold when the price is at its highest and not necessarily when the wine itself is. The price and quality of a wine does not always match, but that the supply and demand determines the prices. The normal investment horisont is 3-25 years and prices of bottles depends on rarity and reputation, not only the actual quality of the wine. Investment wines represents a very limited part of the entire wine production and the market defines prices. The nature of an investment fund is to guarantee value over the investment time and to eliminate risks and therefore wines should be sold when the prices are at the highest!
This seminar ended with Paolo Cristofolini asking if wine funds would have existed if Robert Parker did not exist, whereto Christian Roger said yes and Paolo Cristifolini said no!
Two indeed very different approaches to wine as an investment object.
Seminar 12: Yair Haidu, “HAIDU”; a major new development on the internet.
Yair Haidu was here to present for us his great new project of the worlds wine platform “HAIDU”. As a child of a generation that wants to grow and advance he created this idea out of a need on the market, a need for a platform, not a site nor a portal. A platform that shares content, not sale nor rating of wine. A platform that contains all key information a wine lover needs when he goes travelling! Tasting –travelling – dining… Restaurants will be rated according to wine approach for the first time; selection, prices, glassware etc.
HAIDU will be a new great tool for wineries to communicate directly with their end consumers; a B2B2C or CRM (customer relations management) tool. Then now, how does this work?
It is a multilayered structure covering all information needed and only this. Some years ago we had to search for information, but today we have to sort in information to find what is relevant to us. This overload of un-useful information has been eliminated on the revolutionary platform of HAIDU that consists of interlinked layers about wineries, restaurants, hotels, tastings, information etc.
HAIDU builds on an open source system and will allow you to book visits at wineries, find the nearby hotels and restaurants, or even restaurants selling the wines from the winery you just visited, all over the world. It will be able to help you find wine tastings in the area you are visiting, information about winemakers, chefs and articles from local wine writers and will be able to recommend you alternative wineries and restaurants to visit based on your preferences.
HAIDU will be launched first with all content in English and French and will be translated completely into 10 different languages before 2014. The local content and articles will be written by a selected group of journalists from each country that in this way will be able to get their works published all over the world in several different languages. In this way all content will be added on a win-win basis. You as user of HAIDU will be able to decide exactly what information and content is relevant for you and you will also be able to follow what your network does. All content will be protected and you will never receive information that you did not ask for or need.
The vision behind HAIDU is to create a trustworthy platform to increase the amount of people that want to learn more about wine. To spread the passion and knowledge about wine… To grow wine into a life style! To create a worldwide community sharing the same passion.
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First of all, we are not living glued to Parker BB opinions.
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