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To hit the right note for smart drinkers we offer variety at keen prices

The interest when owning a liquor store is knowing the range. The Canberra store of 1975 offered a collection of malt whiskies, Cognacs and Armagnacs, obscure Eastern European spirits and liqueurs, the local range of Baitz, Continental and Vok liqueurs which gave customers the choice of three Curaçao (also known as Triple Sec or Cointreau) in white, orange or blue in large and half sizes making 18 products, plus all the beers I could find, and when asked an opinion on any beverage I knew the story. I enjoyed making cocktails, The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktails by David Embury being my bible, and this interest made me keen to introduce new tastes to customers.

Fun times, though I found wine the most interesting of the alcohols because of the taste, the staggering variety and the difficulty of mastering what was going on. Now it is all so simple, so I bring a message, keep at it as calm waters lie ahead.

Better quality wines in the 1970s and 1980 were two to four times the price of pleasant quaffing wines and then it all got messy as the wannabe experts arrived. Fortunately, you can drink very well with Trial Bin 930 Barossa Grenache Mataro Shiraz NV $10.80 and Kitts Creek Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz 2018 $13.80 as the price brings out the advantage of buying direct from a small group, located in the vineyards.

So that store, Farmer Bros, was my entry into wine, and while the table wine awakening was underway, as leading discounters we sold enormous quantities of beer and spirits. Wines meant fortified and table wine meant flagons and casks. While interest in bottled wine was growing, wine in casks and flagons was the engine, peaking at some 80% of the wine market, and declining slowly to settle around 30%.

Overtime the strong wine brands of 1980s and the discounting of these brands faded as the big producers ceded power to the supermarket chains that control the customer flow.

As well new market forces developed with the growth of the boutique wine movement. Alas they see their status being attached to the selling price which causes this old discounter to cough and splutter as they are absurd. Let me remind you there are better things to do with money than spend $100 for a bottle. You simply cannot make a wine so much better to be worth these sums and I note youthful consumers are turning to other beverages as that is how the market works. I’m glad I’m not ending my career selling $100 bottles to folk of my age.

Try these wines offering advanced tastes, the Colton and Hewett McLaren Vale Mataro 2016 $10.60 and Crayford Barossa Valley Shiraz Durif 2018 $12.50 at agreeable prices.

So Drink Widely Drink Well

David Farmer

Partner in Glug

Checking in on some Cabernet

From about now we start ducking around inspecting the vineyards. There’s been some odd weather; too much rain and humidity, a big hailstorm.

Sidekick Brad here looking at a cabernet vineyard south of Tanunda, not far from St Hallett.

Pretty light crop and showing some damage from the hail. No sign of mildew. Plenty of acid. Not unhappy.

Going to be a late vintage.

A Quick Tasting for Julie

Julie dropped in today and grabbed a mixed dozen but also wanted some ‘cooler’ reds to show some visitors. Jules is in the Ice Cream Business.

We had a quick look at the Parawatta Eden Valley Shiraz 2018 which sells for $14.50. And the Mount Eagle Eden Valley Shiraz 2019 – $12.60.

True to Glug form, both wines look terrific and are priced keenly and appropriately – the Mount Eagle a bit more perfume and the Parawatta more structure.

Jules grabbed six of the Parawatta. Have a lovely evening!

Sorry about Greg’s t-shirt in the background… definitely bringing the tone down.

The retailer and winemaker are a long way apart

Benjamin and those fulfilling the role of making the Glug wines devote almost as much time on our ‘village wines’ as they do on the best Barossans. The reason for this is worth exploring as its shows how the wine trade partitions itself and how understanding this will assist your drinking.

To do this I need to take you closer to the start. The first oil-shock of 1973 drained away the money that flowed into exploration geology, my specialty, so by 1974 it was time to move on. I resigned and headed off to do an MBA at Melbourne University. So Xmas 1974 became a drive from Perth to Canberra to say g’day to brother Richard, stay a month, then on to Melbourne.

At this time Richard’s wife Jill, a disciple of the great Elizabeth David, was the chef of an evening’s only restaurant at their home in Kingston, Canberra. Dinner guests, eccentrics, politicians, and journalists were everywhere and a bloke from the bush needed a glass of wine to adjust to the strangeness. A week passed and over a bottle Richard explained that between us we had enough degrees so why not take a new tack. But doing exactly what?

So began my next calling as a retailer specialising in wine, a total novice, without the skills of the Melbourne merchants; Crittendens, Seabrooks or Dan Murphy or the Sydney merchants like Rhinecastle and with Canberra customers knowing far more than I did.

The life of a retailer is about buying, building the range, pricing, and watching how the customers reacts. From decades of this you develop a feel about the ratios of price and sales, labels and brand, the value of recommendations, right down to how a minor alteration to display patterns can change customers behaviour. Your career experience, your wine viewpoint, though develops from the daily interaction with your customers.

Here is a story about price and quality. I travelled to France on a buying trip in 1978 as many exciting wines could not be sourced from Australian wineries. I was particularly taken with Sauvignon Blanc, so headed to Sancerre. After purchasing I enquired about cheaper wines, ‘oh if you must-just over the river is Pouilly Fume, the wines are rubbish.’ I found they were most agreeable and far cheaper. (Decades later Serge Dagueuneau arrived in Pouilly Fume to make wine which ultimately sold for hundreds of dollars a bottle. So much for Sancerre and I still chuckle.) In Pouilly I again asked about cheaper wine and was told, go west along the river to Menetou Salon and ask for Henri Pele. So I did and found excellent wines, cheaper again so I added these to my purchases.

A few months after returning a travelling rep from Sydney for Montana (now Brancott estate) entered the store. He had heard I liked Sauvignon Blanc and asked for help as he had the impossible task of selling the first lot of Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; Montana having planted the first Sauvignon Blanc vines in this extraordinary place in 1973. I tasted the wine, the price was cheaper than the French, possibly tasted better and purchased the lot, about 350 cases.

In a similar way winemakers and owners of wineries also develop habits and beliefs over the decades. Winemakers become obsessed with minutiae, often inconsequential, differences in flavour which can translate into a belief of higher quality. Because this is what they do, day after day. Perhaps the winery owners agree as they wish to be seen as better than the others down the road and maybe this translates into higher prices. They also develop a viewpoint far removed from the customers I served.

I believe the production side has little time for retailers and over the years has allowed partitions or dividers to separate them from those who drink what they make. This is dangerous as they are further removed than they realise. In this way the career experience they build is radically different to that of the retailer.

This strong retail background and great knowledge of production means Glug has a foot in both camps. Not all wines need to be the best-ever, and smart drinkers readily move along the range. This is reason we get such enjoyment from making our village wines. Depicted; Early days at Farmer Bros.

OK I’ll Bite

The topic of wine is very democratic as all manner of drinkers pile in with opinions. If I have any expertise, it’s to do with an ability to read between the lines. I receive a variety of emails about wine each week and can gauge well the involvement or knowledge of the writer. This also applies to articles though the recent opinion by the food critic for The Australian, John Lethlean, ‘Don’t bring terrible wine round to my place’, left me confused.

I decided that readership must have dropped off in an alarming way, so he decided to be as provocative as possible to regain attention.

He begins, ‘I’m not sure what would happen if a little notice was posted above my front door: “Only wines with a decent Halliday score (or a thumbs-up from the lads at Wine Front) allowed past this point, thanks.”

Continues; ‘Whoa, I hear you say. How can Australia still be making its fair share of poor wine? I don’t really know, but I figure there must be a lot of wealthy people out there needing tax deductible rural businesses, because I have a fridge full of stuff from wine producers who evidently don’t make it out of passion.

And more; ‘And yet there are dozens of wine brands out there, right across the continent, cranking out mediocre – no, bad – wine. The evidence is lined up in my wine fridge, the bottles opened, one glass poured, tasted and chucked. And my standards aren’t that high.

People arrive with a bottle of chilled Chateau Obscura and you try not to roll the eyes. But what to do? Open it on the spot and try to disguise your reaction?’

And the rant goes on. Yet what if this is what he believes as then he has revealed himself as a wine snob which is not a good position for a food writer of repute.

Normally we don’t like freight returns…

But it was nice to get a couple of these for tasting purposes.

Customer Gary’s order went MIA so we sent him a replacement. Then these came back, clearly traumatised by their journey.

We will keep these for reference as we did genuinely sell every last bottle.

Wine makers versus marketing

As the shop owner ask yourself; if an agent offers an item for sale which you believe does not offer customers value, would you still stock it? There can be reasons other than value and I recall brother Richard and I objected to a Lindeman’s product in the 1980s that combined fruit juice with wine in an attractive, brightly coloured ‘popper fruit box’ design which would have fooled underage drinkers.

Likely we accept that what a wine is worth is best left to the consumer. Still marketing departments are ever active and at least one motivation that drives them is to prove that their marketing concepts are more powerful than the work of the winemakers. Because of this, time and again, up pop wines which repackage good though average wines and offer them at double the price.

At times such concoctions annoyed me enough to refuse to stock them. I do accept that customers may recognise these wines for what they are yet find the concept novel enough to be worth the extra. Afterall the romance of wine runs deep and many wines with traditional images sell for far more than the contents of the bottle would suggest.

Still a product that increasingly annoys me is the Treasury wines concept of 19 Crimes. I would have stocked it on the bottom shelf in a back corner as having what customers want is important for retailers. Not though a huge display since it alters the tone of what I wanted my shops to stand for which on a fundamental level is the belief that what the winemaker produces ranks above what the marketing department produces.

19 Crimes is evolving quickly from early convict types to Snoop Dogg and now that all-round U.S. experience girl and teacher of how to live, Martha Stewart makes an appearance. I applaud having a go at 80 years though it would have been all too much for me so out the stock would go.

Yet I have a feeling there will be more to observe with this saga because as Treasury devalues the role of wine makers and thus the content in the bottle they may find the unseen forces of consumers react.

The Australian newspaper pumps up the Champagne bubble

Why is the national daily, The Australian, recommending luxury French Champagnes? This story appeared on the 29th December, ‘When it comes to the bubbly, the French do it right. So put diplomatic scuffles aside and end 2021 on a high note with a bottle from this list’, by the wine writer Nick Ryan. The article reviewed ten Champagnes with a total purchase price of $2200.

Champagnes and sparkling wines are popular and since they cover a wide price range they are worth discussing. Champagnes are at the expensive end though readers would find interest in topics like:

-are they worth the money,

-how they rate against other sparkling wines,

-compare them to the progress being made in Australia like the news that an Arras Vintage (Tasmania) recently received a score of 99/100,

-discuss the influence of the local chapter of the Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) among journalists, bloggers, influencers, wine judges, and sommeliers,

– and consideration of the use of samples.

Champagne is an interesting wine as its invention is quite recent. Retaining gas in the bottle saved the day for Champagne as the switch from selling wines made from unripe wines to a different pleasure was a remarkable piece of ingenuity. Champagne then is a manufactured product created less by the climate ripening bunches of grapes than about human intervention. Many drinkers find the taste to their liking, and this is just as well as another piece of French ingenuity is the marketing and selling of the 30 million cases each vintage when 80% are indifferent.

The UK price fighting grocers Lidl and Aldi take delight when their house brand Champagnes are judged the best over similar offerings from the posh grocers like Waitrose and Selfridges. At times they are judged to be better than the non-vintage Champagnes from houses like Moet and Chandon and Lanson. Perhaps Mr Ryan in a masked tasting would also find it is not easy to rate differences in the wines.

I also had difficulty with the introduction and how it related to the wine reviews; ‘The trade-off for that universal gift is the simultaneous publishing of such staggering rubbish that you assume it was only written after the author ran out of windows to lick and grew tired of sculpting busts of dead monarchs from their own filth’.

I do not understand the reason for this article with its strange tasting notes and where the editor saw a benefit for readers, I found a puzzle.

Picture: Champagne label dating to the time of the great wine promoter Champagne Charlie C1860.

The curtain falls on the last act

Does it matter who makes the wine? Should we care? Thoughts like these play no part in assessing wine in a row of glasses where colour, aroma, and taste are the guides, and the score is duly given. Yet news from a week ago requires a reflection on the emotion of taste as the report will add to the list of wines that will never taste quite the same again.

On the 6th December, 2021 Accolade wines opened its new headquarters in the Adelaide business district leaving behind the rambling, country cottage style office based in the southern suburb of Reynella. Accolade wines is a diverse winery group which contains numerous companies including several of great historic interest, the most important being Thomas Hardy. Hardy’s after taking over Reynella wines in 1982 later made their head office in the agglomeration of historic buildings on the marvellous Reynell property. For recent settlers the history is long as John Reynell built his farm there from 1838, likely planted vines in 1840 and dug the historic Cave Cellars in 1845.

The romance of wine is one thing and running a global wine business another though I do not see them as separate. Asking folk to pay $200 for a bottle is not about the worth of the ingredients. Of the many misjudgements I have observed in the wine business towards the top must be the decision by Southcorp (now Treasury) to cut costs by quitting the Seppelstfield wine village in the Barossa Valley at least partly due to the high maintenance costs of pleasing the National Trust.

Now that Treasury has learnt the magic of selling Penfolds wines for $3000 a bottle they could likely have achieved with Seppeltsfield what the Seppelts family did not.

I realise Reynella is a hard ask as the trail is cold though what about Thomas Hardy as surely it is worth more than those ridiculous, stamp label so loved by the Brits.

Now surrounded by suburbia suggests the Reynella site may not have been the ideal place to wine and dine the wealthy. Now from the high rise in Adelaide the marketing executives can look south and ask, how can we lift the emotion and romance of Hardys and Reynella. Surely their histories have some worth because at the moment what they make tastes just like wine.

Learn to think like a wine expert and you can be 90% as good

We have just sold our last two bottles of the Langdorf Kaldukee Barossa Valley Frontignac 2015. I tasted this wine in 2016 and rang the winemaker with thanks for making it and commented that it was in a class of its own. I also knew it would be hard to sell as it came from the fringe beyond the fringe. There are families of varieties which have such powerful and distinctive aromas and tastes that they are just too much and are rejected by customers. This wine was also bare bones in that it was fermented bone dry with no sweetness to disguise the taste.

The view at Glug is never to reject great wine and leave it to customers to make of our bottlings what they will. The maker later approached Benjamin and we purchased the bulk in October 2018 and it went on sale on the 5th November, 2018.

The last 70 years has seen the rise of an educated class creating positions for themselves as wine experts. I worry that qualifications like Masters of Wine, the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Association de la Sommelerie Internationales ‘Best in World’, and opinionators running master classes, may lead keen drinkers to think a much higher plateau of tasting ability exists than they can ever reach.

This is not so though you will need to take an active interest and stay curious.

Of the emails I receive most are about not understanding and recognising the use additives in the making of wine, such as the flavours from oak barrels though the main ones are the use of sweetness and acidity to balance and disguise tastes. Others are to do with rejecting unfamiliar tastes when they should be studied, and questions asked.

To get a wine experts certificate requires a great deal of study. A recent exam paper from the Association de la Sommelerie Internationales asked; name the country for each of the following wine areas; Drama, Maipo, Primorska, Cinti, Trasimeno, Serra Gaúcha, Istra, Posavje, Mérida, Azuay, Monterrey, and Montevideo.

This is all rather silly as becoming the Barry Jones of wine teaches nothing. Instead train yourself not to overreact is a good start. Move to the view I have that all wines are interesting and should only be rejected because of gross faults from things like bacterial spoilage and problems of oxidation and not because you are so precious that they offend your delicate nature.

Accordingly, I thank the few Glug customers that found delight in the Langdorf Kaldukee Barossa Valley Frontignac 2015 for showing they are in a class of their own.