Category Archives: Ramblings and Rants

That £4,500 bottle of Bordeaux served by mistake

If we had a pound for the number of times this will be mentioned by visitors this summer, we’ll be able to buy a bottle. Well, maybe a half. Here’s a quick recap of this cracking story that went around the world, and a brief look at how that bottle of Le Pin 2001 ended up being quite so expensive on the wine list in Manchester. Funnily enough, I was treated by some generous, wine-loving friends at a famous restaurant in northern Spain some ten years ago, and spotted the exact same wine on the list. “Wow!” I said. “They’ve got Le Pin ‘01 on the list for €600. The trade price, if you can find a bottle, is three times that.”

“Great” they said. “Order two.” Keep reading

A Long Weekend with David Pritchard

Watching Rick Stein’s Long Weekend in Bordeaux for the umpteenth time when it was repeated earlier this month brought back many happy memories but, on this occasion, it was tinged with considerable sadness. The director and producer David Pritchard, who had worked with Rick for many years, died a few weeks before this showing, following a brave battle with cancer.

On the face of it, the visit by David, Rick and the production team to Château Bauduc on the last day of our harvest in 2015 had culminated in just a few minutes of TV – albeit primetime BBC. By then though, David and I had become good friends and our friendship would continue, from afar, long after the filming had ended. So here’s a small tribute to the great man, with a gallery of pictures of his reconnaissance trip to Bordeaux, when he was accompanied by his wife and assistant Fiona, and of the filming of the Long Weekend itself with his crew.

David was an avid consumer of our newsletter – he would often call afterwards or drop us a line – so it seems only appropriate. Keep reading

No posing for the photo please – The Guardian

‘We need a picture of you with the stock you’re planning to sell’ said Jon Henley, the Guardian’s European correspondent, after he came to talk about Bordeaux wine and Brexit. We duly obliged and how smart the online version of his excellent piece looked. Then the picture editor of the print edition called. ‘Not for us, thanks. We need a ‘living the dream’ shot asap – bringing in the harvest, but no posing please.’ That proved more of a challenge than we thought but no doubt you’ll agree that Ange, Georgie and Sophie, below, don’t look like they’re posing. Not one bit. The boss reduced to a miserly cameo role, top right.

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19 unpalatable truths about UK wine duty

With new duty rates on wine in the UK from 1 February 2019, I’ve updated my statistics and thrilling graphics, and added some new tables for a fairly comprehensive guide to UK wine duty. A rant it may be but, if nothing else, it should help you make better-informed decisions when buying wine in the UK – and on the continent.

1. Wine was singled out for a duty increase in the autumn budget, effective 1 February 2019, while excise duties on spirits and beer were frozen.

2. The UK duty on still wine is £2.23 a bottle plus VAT (£2.68) from 1/2/19, up from £2.16 (£2.60 inc VAT). Sparkling wine duty is up from £2.77 to £2.86 (£3.43 inc VAT). Keep reading

A chat with Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin on LBC

French Vineyard Owner Pulls Up Wetherspoon’s Boss Over No-Deal Brexit

Ran the headline on lbc.co.uk.

(The photos above are of Nick Ferrari and Tim Martin, not the vineyard owner.)

A French vineyard owner pulled up the chairman of JD Wetherspoon when he said wine would be cheaper after Brexit.

Tim Martin, who founded the popular pub chain, is a leading Brexiteer and insisted the UK has nothing to fear from a no-deal Brexit.

He told Nick Ferrari no-deal is better than Theresa May’s deal and talked of scrapping tariffs on New World wines.

He said: “If we leave the EU, one of the advantages is that we can scrap tariffs. So Gavin’s wine will continue to come into the country tariff-free, but the difference will be you’ll save 8-12p per bottle on wine from the rest of the world.

“But you save 17% on children’s clothes, you save x% on bananas, so much on oranges and all the rest of it.”

However, Gavin Quinney, who runs a 63-acre vineyard near Bordeaux, pointed out: “Tim, you’re not selling children’s clothes and bananas in Wetherspoons, you’re selling wine.

“The most you’re going to reduce a bottle of Australian wine is 8p and if the EU finishes the negotiation with Australia and removes that tariff, 8p we’re talking about on a bottle of wine, compared with the UK duty from 1st February will be £2.23 – 28-times more.

“The UK collects 63% of all excise duty on wine in the EU. It’s massive, whereas the tariff is tiny.” Keep reading

Véraison – 16 grape varieties changing colour

Every stage of the grapes’ development is fascinating to some of us but August is the month when most of the bunches change colour (véraison) in Bordeaux, so you really get a visual perspective on how the different varieties perform.

As well as the Bordeaux varieties, we have some non-Bordeaux grapes too, planted around ten years ago as an experiment. Most visitors have little idea that we’re restricted to growing only certain types of grapes, but that’s the same for all protected ‘appellations’ in France: should we wish to make wine with non-Bordeaux grapes, like Syrah or Chardonnay, this would have to be under the basic Vin de France label. (Only a tiny fraction of wine from the Gironde is Vin de France, the rest ‘Bordeaux’ or one of its 60-odd appellations.)

This is a long post below with several photos of each variety, and you certainly don’t need to know all about this stuff to enjoy a glass or two of wine. However, to give you a picture of how different grapes ripen at different times, here are several reds in the same block, taken on the same mid-August day:

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Hail nets get the nod

The INAO, the body that controls viticulture and wine production in the protected Appellations of France, have given approval for the use of anti-hail nets following some extensive tests in Burgundy. Until now, growers in Appellation Contrôlée vineyards have not been allowed to install nets against hail because the effect on the grapes and on the vines hasn’t been properly understood and they can alter the nature of the terroir. Or something like that.

In the big picture of things, this may not seem to be especially significant news but it’s an interesting development for us and for any wine growers who have to live through the fairly regular stress of hail storm alerts. And, from time to time, the real losses from hail damage.

The successful Burgundy tests have taken three years and this coincides with the experimental nets that we installed at Bauduc in June 2015 (above). Our trials were not so much to see if they work against hail (we think they would, though mercifully they’ve not been put to the test) but to assess how long they might last, and what impact there is on the vines, the labour, and the grapes. Now that we’ve been given the feu vert, in effect, we will spend more time and effort really understanding how the grapes behind the nets perform and how they taste during this harvest, compared to the neighbouring rows. Keep reading

Debunking Brexit twaddle about EU wine tariffs

Tim Martin looks like the sort of bloke you could enjoy a beer with in one of his pubs, but he does talk a lot of nonsense about EU tariffs on wine. You may have seen Tim this month on the beeb on Question Time or Newsnight, or on Sky, or being widely quoted in the press. I responded to one of those articles on Twitter – in fact, to Nigel Farage proclaiming fellow Brexiter Tim’s guff as a ‘Brexit boom!’

It’s quite rare for one of my tweets to be shared so widely (photos of dogs in the vines have limited appeal) but this Tim Martin tweet of mine was viewed over 250,000 times, according to Twitter, and my little thread – a string of connected tweets, otherwise known as a rant – had over 1300 retweets.

You see, when Tim bangs on about the EU tariffs on non-EU wine and how we’re all going to be so much better off without them, he forgets to mention that the EU tariff at 6.5p to 8p a bottle on the Australian wine he buys is 27 TIMES less than the UK duty of £2.16, plus VAT. (HM Government charges wine drinkers in Britain no less than 63% of all the wine duty levied in the EU.)

Oh, and there’s a free trade agreement between the EU and Chile (the 32% tariff claimed by the Brexiter MEP Dan Hannan a little while back was utter hogwash) and most South African wine carries no EU tariff.

8p? Tim’s no fool: no one is going to ask, in a few years, why the wine isn’t any cheaper. Or point out that the fall in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote has increased the cost of the product more than the EU tariff ever would.

Anyway, here’s the thread. Keep reading

How to source wine for a UK charity event

Some thoughts on sourcing wine for charity, and this is by no means a definitive guide. Over the years, we’ve donated the wine for gala dinners, concert receptions, race evenings, lavish lunches, auction prizes – all sorts of things. Equally, we’ve had to turn down a lot of requests, and one of the main reasons (other than giving away precious stock) is the additional cost on top of the wine.

As we’ll see, a single case of 12 bottles of wine, with UK duty, shipping and delivery – and VAT on all those – costs £50, before counting the cost of the wine itself. Sparkling wine costs £8 a case more in extra duty. The donor therefore has to be pretty generous to stump up for the wine, with duty and delivery included, so it can make sense to split the bill: find a benefactor who will pay for the add-on part, and someone else to donate the wine. Keep reading

Wine for “the world’s toughest triathlon”

We all receive requests, from time to time, to support someone we know who’s putting themselves out to raise money for charity. Yet when some long standing customers, Bruce and Bridget Montgomery, asked us to support their son by donating the wine for a charity ball in London, we were blown away by what he’d set out to do. And now Paddy Montgomery, with his accomplice Seamus Crawford, has just completed the world’s toughest ‘triathlon’ by rowing across the Atlantic – 3000 miles from the Canaries to Antigua – braving waves of 40-50 feet and winds of over 40 knots. The ‘really brutal and horrible’ journey, according to Paddy, took 38 days, 22 hours, which was 2 days below the previous world record.

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