Voyageur Journal

winemaker

Viewing posts tagged winemaker

Smashable Stuff in SA!

Since returning home to Australia it has been nice to remove my sommelier hat for the first time in a decade and really just be a true consumer for a moment. Drinking wine without thinking about which restaurant it would go well in, what the consumer perception of it would be and at what price point it would be listed. Ive always believed that the golden rule of being a good sommelier is to never write a list with only wine you like to drink on it, you certainly don’t list wines you dislike, but you have to curb your own personal preference to a certain extent and look at wine with an unbiased eye, appreciate it for exactly what it is and understand that every consumer is different, whilst staying true to your own personal philosophies and knowing that there needs to be something on your list for everyone. I have always said that if I was going to write a wine list just for me it would be full of just Riesling and Pinot and that would be it, one day I secretly hope I get the opportunity to write that list…
After 10 years overseas, one of the most exciting things about being back in Australia is getting to try the wines of the producers that have emerged during this time, many of them producing such small quantities that they are not available outside the state they are made in let alone overseas.

Tom : Shobrook Wines

Tom : Shobrook Wines

I recently spent the weekend in South Australia, where there are some seriously exciting wines being produced. From Shobrook’s Tommy Ruff, a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre from the Barossa that wine maker Tom suggests is the perfect thing to drink whilst riding your bike home. To James Erskine of Jauma’s various incarnations of Grenache from McLaren Vale and a Chenin that I could deadest drink for the rest of my days and not complain.

Photo Credit: Julian Kingma

James : Jauma Photo Credit: Julian Kingma

Yes, these wines can be classified as natural and receive all of the adoration and or wrath that ensues, but for me, when considering the final product and what is in the glass first and foremost, before how it is made, these are wines I simply just want to drink. Guzzle in fact. They make me thirsty just thinking about them, and they are kind of wines I can’t wait to show and share with my friends. If that is not the purpose of good wine then I don’t know what is.

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Gareth – Gentle Folk

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From the Basket Ranges enclave I am also loving the wines of Gentle Folk, who whilst at dinner I found myself reaching for time and time again. At less than a 1000 cases in total production, good luck getting your hands on some…its first in best dressed at there. The one producer of this special collection of humans that I did encounter towards the end of my time in Asia, were the wines of Lucy Margaux in Tokyo, where Anton the wine maker is seen as a demi-god to the natural wine drinking community with bottles of his wine selling faster than tickets to an ACDC concert in Adelaide. With their anime inspired labels, drawn by Anton’s daughter Lucy, their Japanese importer – Wine Diamonds – says they could sell 10 times the small allocation they receive, as I am sure could most sommeliers in Australia.

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Anton : Lucy Margaux

 

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Speaking of wines idolized in Japan, just down the road from Lucy Margaux we also visited Ochota Barrels who make my favourite Gewurztraminer in the country and seriously good Pinot Noir amongst many other delicious treats.

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Tarras : Ochota Barrels

 

Wine maker Tarras is such a legend that when the Rolling Stones came to town there was only one place they wanted to go after their ‘gig’, his place! Mick Jagger playing the piano in the winery…is next level. And that’s exactly what the wines being made from this awesome group of individuals are – next level.

I want to drink them all day, everyday and that’s that.

Cheers!

Kx

To buy these wines online (if you there is any left) head to their various websites:

http://www.shobbrookwines.com.au/

http://www.jauma.com/

https://gentlefolk.com.au/

http://www.lucymargauxvineyards.com/

http://ochotabarrels.com/

Importer #chitchat

I recently spent almost 2 months in Japan, whilst I was putting the wine program together for the new Amanresorts property in Tokyo.

I arrived to Japan knowing that it was regarded as the most sophisticated of all the major wine markets in Asia and expecting there to be a wide range of availability, but never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be the depth and diversity of wines I found there.

In Japan more than anywhere else in the world they are masters at specialising in the smallest detail – hence there are importers just focusing on the Rhône only, others just Oregon, many just natural wines. In Japan the natural wine movement has been embraced to a point of fanaticism. I think I could pretty safely say that Tokyo has more natural wine bars than anywhere else on the planet.

Anyway, moving on, in this series of blog posts our aim is to introduce you to the importers on the ground in various markets across the Asia-Pacific region.

To kick everything off we meet Carl Robinson, CEO of Wine Diamonds.

Whilst almost everything is available in Japan, it can be a very intimidating market for wine producers to navigate. Hence on Importer #chitchat we aim to give you some insight into the varying markets whilst highlighting the best in the business.

VS: Wine Diamonds is relatively new in the Japan wine scene – when did you start Wine Diamonds and why?

CR: We started Wine Diamonds in 2012.

I have also for the last 10 years been running a larger international importer called Jeroboam. Jeroboam has big international brands such as Pol Roger, Hugel, Perrin, Yalumba, Joseph Phelps etc. About five years ago we started to get excited about some of the newer, modern small producers that were coming out of Australia and New Zealand. Initially Jeroboam imported a few of these. However after a while (and a few late night drinks) we thought that a small dedicated company would be the best way to promote these wines. We put together a great team of partners and then started to build up the portfolio. Our team was Ned Goodwin MW and myself for sourcing, marketing and educating. Ken-Ichi Ohashi, for wholesaling to his local network of Japanese professionals, and Yoshiaki Washitani owner of Wassy’s, Japans leading online retailer of new world wines.

VS: Tell us about the people behind Wine Diamonds…

CR: I have been in Japan for 18 years. I started as a somm then moved into consulting. I was doing the usual things, building wine lists, teaching, writing for several magazines and helping wineries get distribution in Japan. When the Perrin, Hugel and Pol Roger families started Jeroboam they hired me to put together their new world portfolio. It was a big success and we became close. Eventually I was able to take over the running of the business.

Ned was another long-term wine resident of Japan and we had been mates for several years. Ned too was consulting, writing and teaching for many prestigious companies both in Japan and internationally. We had often talked about doing something fun with the small artisan producers we loved, so we got together with Ken and Yoshiaki and started.

Ken is a wine distributor, educator, sake guru who consults (amongst other things) for the Somersault group of 20+ local distributors throughout Japan. These distributors formed the base of our early distribution. Yoshiaki Washitani is Japans most respected and important on-line retainer of New World wines. He has two physical shops in Osaka and a large team for the online business. Wassy’s is the only place where all our selections are available to consumers.

Once we had our shareholder group we needed a dynamic and energetic manager to run and develop the business. After much begging from Ned and myself we were able to persuade Yutaka Ozaki to leave his dream job as brand ambassador for Moet Hennessy to come and join us. Yutaka had previously worked with Ned at Global Dining, one of Ned’s large consulting clients. Yutaka’s energy has really seen the business take off.

VS: Can you give us a run down on your decision making process for choosing producers for the WD portfolio.

CR: We chose together and all agree on what we add to the portfolio. If anything Ned takes care more of the sourcing in Australian and myself for NZ. However after we find stuff we all sit down to taste and discuss. Our criteria is simple – they have to be delicious, and made by people we want to hang out with.

VS: When I was there I was surprised by how little Australian and New Zealand wine there was listed in the majority of the five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants. They seem to focus on California of all of the new world regions. Where has that trend stemmed from in Japan? As in the rest of Asia it is generally the opposite with Australia and New Zealand dominating new world selections. Is it difficult to sell Australian and New Zealand wine in Japan?

France and Italy still rule here. Basically because wine has traditionally been part of the restaurant experience. There are 4500 Italian restaurants in Tokyo alone and more than 3000 French. Wine is imported distributed and drunk primarily in the on trade at these outlets.

With regard to the new world there has been limited demand (there are probably only 5 Australian and 2 NZ restaurants in Tokyo) so NZ and Aus traditionally tended to get token places on the large hotel lists and international restaurants. The US prevalence stems from trade ties and the post war fascination with all things USA that still prevails. In the 80’s when Japan was exporting millions of container loads of goods to the USA the Americans demanded they put something in the containers coming back. Hence companies like Honda motors were amongst the first Californian Wine importers. Now pretty much every Californian Wine brand is here.

With regard to selling Australia and New Zealand, I think the Wine Diamonds customer is attracted to our selections for the taste and style and not because they are Australian / New Zealand wines. We spend a lot more time talking about the people who make our wines rather than where they are from.

There is a growing movement on smaller, more casual restaurants, often in the grimier parts of the large cities, opening with funkier food and wine offerings. These are the outlets that have really taken to the Wine Diamonds portfolio.

VS: What are your thoughts on the natural wine movement in Japan, is it just a passing trend or here to stay?

CR: It’s here to stay. Post Fukushima Japanese consumers are very concerned about what they eat and drink. Integrity in food and beverage packaging has become a big deal. The idea of non-manipulated wines hits this nerve perfectly, and I am sure it will continue.

There are many dozens of restaurants that only serve natural wines now. They continue to open like crazy.

VS: Whilst I was there, I noticed that Lucy Margaux, one of the WD producers, has quickly become almost a cult wine – it is possible to explain why Anton’s wines have been so successful?

CR: Japanese love the story behind the wines they drink. Anton has a great story. With any movement (such as Natural wines) there are those who do it for marketing and those that walk the walk. Anton, making his own wine, cider, salt, vegetables, beer, dry goods etc. is the real deal and the Japanese have been quick to recognize that. The labels also hark to Japan with the Manga designs created by his daughter Lucy. It’s a perfect match.

VS: Are you looking to expand the Wine Diamonds portfolio? If so, what are you looking for?

CR: Yes, we are keen to keep our portfolio fresh and relevant. Many of our producers are very small and cannot give us more wine. Hence we need to keep finding more like-minded producers that add value to the portfolio. We are looking for anything that excites us.

VS: Whilst Tokyo is quite a stable market, it is still susceptible to trends. What do think will be the next big trend?

CR: I think we are still at the beginning of the Natural wine trend and this has a long way to run. For wines I think that Japanese consumers will continue to demand wines of honesty and integrity. The industrial wines will continue to slow down here whist artisans will do well. Oh, and the other BIG trend will be the prevalence of Japanese wines as an important part of restaurant wine lists. The local industry is on fire!

VS: Last but not least, what’s your favourite thing about being a part of the Japanese wine market?

CR: Japan is a great place to be in the wine business.

If you are passionate about what you do and are willing to invest the time and effort then you can build a good following and a successful business. It always takes longer than you think, but if you stick at it Japan is immensely rewarding. The foods is not bad either!

Thanks Carl!

To visit the Wine Diamonds website got to http://www.winediamonds.co.jp