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General articles about wine

Where’s the beef?

Being an Australian wine traveller gets you in a lot of doors around the world. For one thing Australians have been loved as travellers a long time as they tend to be open-minded, fun, aware and generally up for a good time. I’m concerned that this positive image is starting to lose its sheen but that’s another topic. As one of the world’s major producers and the largest exporter outside of Europe you would struggle to find anyone in the global wine industry that isn’t aware that Australia makes wine.

In fact most are aware of the meteoric rise of Australian wine in the ’90s in Europe and North America thanks to the strong marketing and communications of varietal labelling. Not to mention the major strides made in large-scale commercial production reducing costs whilst making clean fruit-driven wines. Australia became the number one country imported into the United Kingdom and in many cases second only to Italy or France. It’s brands seemed indestructible.

Wine Australia uses its most familiar symbol

Wine Australia uses its most familiar symbol

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Impressions of France

This post has been almost twelve months in the making, as the first region I visited in Europe was Champagne way back in the third week of January, and my final one in Europe was Burgundy. Over the year I have made periodic visits to France which was not intentional but merely a product of its very central location in Western Europe, and the fact that most of the regions happen to be quite close to the borders of other countries. It is important to keep this in mind as I collect my thoughts and look back on my experiences on the most famous wine producing country in the world. It is also important to keep in mind that my visits to different regions in France have come at different stages in my experience and thus each new region I visited in France was actually a big jump forward in my development having focused on another country entirely (Germany, Italy, Spain etc.) By the time I got to Burgundy I had seen the best that the rest of Europe had to offer and had a significantly better understanding about wine production, viticulture and the concept of terroir. So without further ado, here are my impressions of France.
Day 1 in French wine country

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The Vintage Experience

After two months an important part of my trip has concluded. Important not just because I learnt a lot about wine, but also as I needed work to get a working-holiday visa to remain in Europe all year. After 10 months of solid visits to wineries with a few brief intermissions, I was grateful for a break in wine when I travelled through the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands and Northern Germany before returning to wine, this time on the other side of the fence. Another thing I was grateful for was some money and the chance to stay somewhere for free for a few months, thus saving me some money that I didn’t have. It is with all sincerity that I thank first the Hasselbach family from Weingut Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen, and second Annegret Reh-Gartner and her team at Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt in the Mosel, for their generosity in welcoming me and allowing me to gain first-hand insights into German riesling.
Picking grapes in the Rheinhessen

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Impressions of Germany, better late than never

It occurred to me having returned to Germany to work the vintage at a few wineries that after spending about four weeks here back in February, including attending the Prowein trade fair in Dusseldorf, I had neglected to write my general thoughts about wine here. It is a strange feeling returning to wine regions that I visited about seven months ago since travelling to regions all over Europe, particularly the Mosel which was the first region I hadn’t visited before in Europe. In spite of the gap things seem very familiar, and I am often reminded of some of the things I noticed. Now I am better able to compare Germany with other countries I have visited and commented on in Europe, so it seemed like the perfect time to chronicle my thoughts.

A welcome sight in the Mosel Valley

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Spanish metal (Impressions of Spain)

It was a great privilege to travel through Spain for five weeks and visit the fourteen major wine regions to meet some of the absolute top producers in the country. What an amazing learning experience to not only be introduced to the wines they produce, but also their philosophies, culture and traditions. A lot of this is thanks to Scott Wasley who as I have mentioned is probably the most important importer of Spanish wine in Australia, working with an exceptional range of wines from the worlds largest wine producing country. I was fortunate enough to not only gain an insight into the most premium wines that Spain produces from the source, but also to their generosity and hospitality as many of the producers very kindly invited me to share lunch or dinner with them, and sometimes offered me somewhere to stay which as I have said is such a huge help to me as I am completely self-funding this trip. So from the beginning I would like to thank both Scott and all of the producers who gave me such a warm welcome to their regions and wineries.
Attempting to draw fino from the solera at Sanchez Romate

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Impressions of Portugal

Firstly I’d like to point out that I only spent two weeks in Portugal and only nine days of which was spent visiting wineries. Secondly I only visited four (five if you treat Oporto separately) regions in Portugal, all of which are in the northern part of the country. I was also able to visit some of the absolute top producers in each of these regions and thus was only able to experience the best of what Portugal produces. This does also mean that I was exposed to the cutting edge and future of Portuguese wines, and meet people with experience in different regions and producers representing different elements of the wine industry. So it seems a little silly to be making assumptions and assessments about a country that requires significantly longer to get to know, but I wanted to talk about Portugal which is a producer that certainly I had very little experience with and understanding of, but feel that everyone out there needs to get to know better.

Traditional method sparkling wine in Bairrada

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Impressions of Italy

Eight weeks is the longest I have spent in one country continuously on my trip. The closest was spending five weeks in Germany which included one week in Alsace and the three days of Prowein. I spent about six weeks in the USA but that was broken up by two weeks in Canada. I will be spending a total of nine weeks in France, but this is in five separate incursions. Up to three months in Germany will be spent just working for some wineries in two different regions, but this won’t give me much if any time to travel. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to visit a few wineries in the same region. As you can imagine, spending eight weeks straight in one country, particularly when it is Italy, it is difficult to think about anything else as you are totally immersed in the culture and scenery. I found myself forgetting about all the places I had been already, and also about all the places I have yet to visit in the remaining 8 ½ months. All I was focused on was making the most of my time in Italy, trying to learn as much as possible about Italian wine, and how it forms part of life in Italy and the world.

With Elena Walch in Alto Adige

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South America – observations and learnings

Talk about potential! Chile and Argentina have been improving every aspect of wine production since the 80s, and as they learn more about their unique terroir and which varieties and styles to focus on in their regions, the sky’s the limit. Chile in particular seems to have such an amazing range of different climates, soil types and elevations that they could theoretically produce any wine style imaginable. People in the industry here are some of the warmest and most genuine I have ever encountered. The quality of the wines speaks volume, but it is the enthusiasm and honesty with which they are produced that makes them so special. In many of the wineries I visited I felt so welcome it was hard to leave so soon.

Very old vineyards in Cafayate, Argentina

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Pacific Northwest – what I’ve learnt

Wineries don’t need to be on the vineyards they source fruit from. They don’t even need to be in the same region. Wineries in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) source fruit from Walla Walla (Washington). Wineries West of the Cascade Mountains in Washington source fruit almost exclusively from the East of the state. Red Mountain, a quarter of the size of the Walla Walla AVA, actually produces more fruit, but very little of the wine is made there. If a winemaker wants to make a particular style of wine, they will find the fruit they need. Many wineries deal with the tyranny of distance in different ways. Numerous wineries in the Western part of Washington were established close to Seattle, such as in Woodinville. The town of Walla Walla has been set-up as a wine tourism oasis. The Willamette on the other hand is naturally blessed with being less than an hour from Portland, but the Southern Oregon regions are not so lucky. The fruit for the wine may travel far, but visitors to wineries shouldn’t have to, and wine tourism hubs are as common as shopping districts in town.

Very cool labels in Walla Walla, Washington

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California – what I’ve learnt

Wines born of sunshine and heat are fruit driven and higher in alcohol. They tend to be richer and fuller in fruit, particularly the chardonnays and Bordeaux varieties. This does not mean they are simple wines, as in most cases they have a higher acidity to balance out the fruit and alcohol. Winemaking techniques are fairly universal. They don’t do anything different in the winery or out in the vineyards that distinguishes them in particular. What speaks volumes is the quality of the fruit and the expressions of terroir. The problem is when winemakers do too much to interfere with the fruit, attempting to exert their influence on the finished product.

Los Olivos market

Los Olivos market

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