Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Great and the Goode

First International Sparkling Wine Symposium: 18th March 2009

Looking west: the start of Denbies vineyards by the A24

Difficult to imagine a more perfect day for this first ever International Sparkling Wine Symposium held at Denbies Wine Estate at Dorking. Although the focus was certainly not entirely on English sparkling wine, this was certainly one of the themes of the day. The bright March sunshine, blue skies and the broad acres of Denbies undoubtedly provided evidence of the potential of English fizz.

Jamie Goode (Wine Anorak): Master of Ceremonies

Curiously there is one direct train at day from Forest Hill (London SE23) to Dorking. It leaves a minute after eight, and as the symposium started at 9.15 am it was ideal. I got off at Box Hill and West Humble and strolled along the foot path to Denbies. By the time I had grabbed a coffee, winemaker John Worontschak (director of Litmus Wines) was starting his brief welcome to the day. John along with fellow winemaker and also a director of Litmus Wines, Sam Harrap MW were the initial movers behind the symposium, soon recruiting Jamie Goode (The Wine Anorak) to help them.

Tom Stevenson

Unfortunately the day started with a train crash, in the words of one of the organisers. The task of introducing the day had given to Riband Champagne expert, Tom Stevenson. Although Tom has been working with computers since 1982, he has never previously used PowerPoint. It was only when he was due to start his introduction that Tom realised he couldn’t read his notes nor did he have a print out of them. You would think that he might have checking things out beforehand………… Anyway an embarrassing hiatus ensued while a solution was found. Like opening a prestige bottle of Champagne to find that it is flat or corked. In the days of Louis X1V the great chef, Vatel, committed suicide when the fish didn’t turn up in time for the royal banquet. Luckily we have moved on since then....

Part of the audience

While this was going on, fellow Champagne expert, Giles Fallowfield, arrived. Perhaps he knew something we didn’t thinking that by arriving late he would catch the last few phrases of Tom’s introduction. If this was the ploy, it didn’t work as Tom had yet to start.

TS performance: don't ask!

Dr Tony Jordan

Tony Jordan: Global challenges of grape growing for sparkling wine
Luckily the next speaker was Tony Jordan, formerly chief executive /winemaker for Cape Mentelle (Western Australia), Cloudy Bay (NZ) and and Domaine Chandon (maker of Green Point) and now a consultant. Despite it being the middle of vintage in Australia, Tony had flown over especially for the symposium – a long way to come for two days. Ever the true professional Tony delivered a fascinating talk on the implications of climate change for sparkling wines and wines in general.

He began by citing the recent bush fires in the Yarra and the five-day heat-wave a few days prior to the fire as examples of extreme weather and its effects arising from climate change. The warming of the world will mean that vineyards will have to migrate to cooler areas if they are to continue to grow the same varieties and produce the same styles. Alternatively different varieties will have to be grafted. Vineyards will be planted and managed in different ways, for instance to protect against excessive heat and sunlight – a turnaround for the UK! Also methods to reduce the amount of water used in irrigation and increase its efficiency. When the Yarra Valley first started some of the best vineyards were on the valley floor. This is no longer the case, the best fruit comes from the slopes even from those sites which were originally considered by some to be too cool.

Tony warned that the effects of climate change in the northern hemisphere will be more dramatic because of the greater land mass, while the oceans of the southern will have a cooling effect and reduce the rise in temperature. I guess that by 2080 Denbies will be known for its sparkling Shiraz, rather than its Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir fizz.

TJ performance: grand cru!

Dr Michel Salgues, global sparkling wine consultant who established the Roederer Estate in California

Michel Salgues: strategies and recommendations for new sparkling wine installations
Michel Salgues gave a fascinating and lively presentation on the factors and that need to be considered when contemplating setting up a sparkling wine operation, especially in a country like the UK. He said the UK is a terroir in the making and that, although it's climate doesn't allow it make cheap sparkling wine at a competitive price, in can play in the major – Champagne league. He warned that start up producers should anticipate having to wait eight years from planting their first vines to being able to sell their first bottles of sparkling wine. "To reduce risk the best sites should be planted first. Do small scale trials on your least good sites." Michel advised that the best proportion for varieties here is 60% Pinots – Meunier and Noir – and 40% Chardonnay.

Time schedules outlined on screen

Champagne's global marketing strategies do not apply. Instead UK sparkling producers have a niche market and should be targeting the educated, well-off offering good visitor and tasting facilities. "UK sparkling wine has a good story to tell," he said. "You can sell more than you can produce, so you shouldn't drop the price."

MS performance: cuvée speciale

Dominique Demarville: tasting of vins clairs from Veuve Clicquot

Dominique Demarville, Chef de Cave for Veuve Cliquot, who led a vins clairs tasting

Vins clairs service

Michael Edwards who has just finished writing The Finest Wines of Champagne to be published by Fine Wine Editions (Quarto group) and The University of California Press

Vins clairs service

Tim Atkin MW passing the Electric Blue Kool-Aid Test

Jamie Goode: tasting and filming in stereo; writer Michael Edwards (left)

Tony Jordan and writer Susie Barrie

Tim@Vins Clair: tasting descriptor on tip of tongue!

Joe Wadsack: media star and formerly wine sage of Skegness

Jamie Goode: reflecting on the vins clairs and the day

Tony Jordan

Writers and Champagne experts: Giles Fallowfield and Michael Edwards

Mike Roberts of Ridgeview wine estate in Sussex

David Longfield (deputy editor of Drinks International) tasting a 2008 Pinot Meunier

Dominique Demarville

Panel discussion: new developments in sparkling winemaking

(to be added)

Sarah Mowl

Sarah Mowl: consumer insight: consumer research into attitudes to sparkling wine
I guess that Sarah Mowl’s overall conclusion that the public is pretty ignorant about wine and that there is a great opportunity for the wine trade if they can educate them is hardly new. However, her presentation was made with great verve and timing, so she really captured the audience’s interest.

The four focus groups were groups were from ABC1s between 25-50, who enjoyed cooking and entertaining. They ate out regularly and enjoyed drinking and buying wine. Bubbles were considered important – “if they’re smaller it’s Champagne”, “if there is lots of them it is not”, and “if they go anti-clockwise it is”. “Never!” was the reaction to English sparkling wine. Cava was seen “as below Champagne”, while sparkling wine was seen as a different category and “below Cava”. ‘Fizz’ was a more popular descriptor than sparkling wine.

After the discussion all of the groups took the taste test: six sparkling wines tasted blind. The six were: a New World sparkling wine, a supermarket own label Champagne, Cava, English sparkling wine, NV estate Champagne, and Prosecco.

Although the taste test produced no consensus over what was what or what was liked, English sparkling wine did well as did Prosecco.

Tom Stevenson in deep, mid-afternoon contemplation

Panel discussion: business of sparkling wine
Members: Tony Jordan, Dee Blackstock MW (wine buyer: Waitrose), Bob Lindo (Camel Vineyards, chair of UK Vineyards Association), John Worontschak (Litmus Wines)

Dee Blackstock MW, wine buyer for Waitrose and a member of the panel discussing the 'Business of sparkling wine'

John Worontschak (Litmus Wines)

Bob Lindo and John Worontschak

Around and about

Main entrance to the winery and visitor centre

AM: No play for Decanter editor: Guy Woodward

Jamie Goode: just time for a twitter...

Bob Lindo, MD of Camel Valley Vineyards and chairman of the UKVA

Jamie and John discuss timings while Dominique is probably checking on the fall of sterling against the euro

Coffee time – L-R: Bryony Wright (Proven PR). Tim Atkin, Tony Jordan, Guy Woodward (editor of Decanter)

Dee Blackstock MW and Stephen Skelton MW

David Lindsay (Lindsay May PR): "Why is evryone so short? Look I'm taller than the fire exit!"

PM: Still up against it: Guy Woodward, while his publishing director, Sarah Kemp, was in Paris lunching at the George V to celebrate Hugh Johnson's 70th birthday

The sponsors

Unfortunately the symposium totally ignored Chenin Blanc, one the best grapes for sparkling wine – a shame but I guess it will help to keep the price down while keeping that of over-cropped Champagne up. However, despite this minor gripe, I thought the day was a real success and a great foundation for a second symposium, perhaps held in 2011 making this a bi-annual event. I understand from some of the organisers that a second edition will need more sponsorship for it to be viable. As Jamie Goode says on his blog this edition's sponsors 'should be congratulated for getting behind a new venture like this, when many others took a wait and see policy, or even opposed what we were trying to do.'

End of the day – sun setting behind notice and Downs

To be finished....

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