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The retailer and winemaker are a long way apart

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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.

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