Monday, December 19, 2011

Wine shows, Rick Kinzbrunner and Andrew Jefford

I was fascinated to read the following piece extracted from Decanter Magazine in October:

Decanter magazine - 7 Oct 2011


The Australian show system is holding good wines back and promoting boring wines, winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner says in the latest issue of Decanter.

Kinzbrunner, founder of Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria, tells Andrew Jefford the shows have become moribund. In the ‘early years’, he says, the system helped ‘drag the bottom end up’ but now it’s doing the opposite. ‘It’s holding people back. It just drives wines to a certain level of interesting boredom, clean boredom.’ The problem is one of winemakers’ egos, Kinzbrunner says, and the solution would be to have consumers in charge. 'Why do winemakers run the show? They're not the people who drink the wine. It's absolutely crazy. You should have consumers in charge, with a small winemaking contingent.' Giaconda’s wines are feted by critics as diverse as Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson and Jefford himself. Berry Brothers, which imports the wines, is begging for a ‘stay of execution’ on a Roussanne vineyard that Kinzbrunner is thinking of pulling out – Giaconda’s Aeolia, pure Roussanne, is one of the most renowned of the range. ‘Despite his success, he’s still very much the outsider,’ Jefford writes, ‘his famed Chardonnay … is the antithesis of modern Australia’s …critically acclaimed ideal.’ In the course of a wide-ranging interview, Kinzbrunner airs his views on a number of subjects, including the Australian need to ‘cut you down to size’, his countrymen’s ‘insane preference for screwcaps’, and his love of Schubert, Bach and Beethoven. ‘Bach's cello sonatas [are a] wonderful example of harmony in art as in nature – it reminds me of the synergy I think there can be between a terroir and a winemaker.’


www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/529418/australian-shows-make-boring-wine-kinzbrunner



It is always easy to criticise and/or pontificate on a subject if you have no real knowledge of it. But the arguments advanced by Rick Kinzbrunner really took my breath away when I read them. This is how I see it:

  1. I know Rick Kinzbrunner has never participated as a judge in any of the mainstream wine shows in Australia, and I would be terribly surprised if he had ever attended the post-show [exhibitor?] tastings where the wines which win medals (and those which don’t) are available for tasting.
  2. At last year’s National Wine Show in Canberra the split between winemakers and sommeliers, journalists and retailers was as close to equal as you can have it when the total number of judges and associates was 21. Eleven were winemakers, five sommeliers, four journalists and one a retailer. Last year’s Sydney Wine Show went much further, only 10 of the judges and associates were winemakers, 18 came from sommeliers, retailers and journalists.
  3. Many of the current judges and associates are graduates of the five-day Len Evans Tutorial, which is an intensive series of masterclasses in one way or another putting Australian wines in the context of the great wines of the world. It is absolutely not boring, and is equally absolutely designed to puncture any complacency.
  4. Attitudes and practises within the Australian winemaking fabric have always been in a state of change. Before the mid-1970s there was no pinot noir, and virtually no chardonnay of any lasting worth being made in Australia. How different the situation today. It is ironic that the conversation should have been between Rick Kinzbrunner and Andrew Jefford, for it was the latter who recently ‘came out’ and voiced the opinion that top-end Australian chardonnays (and no doubt he would include Giaconda in that) can effortlessly compete with Grand Cru White Burgundies.
  5. The dinners that Len Evans pioneered for the judges and associates during the currency of each show have always featured French wines, with a solid smattering of German, Italian, Spanish, New Zealand and Californian wines. Once again, the purpose is to broaden vision and defuse complacency.
  6. The Australian wine show system (and that of New Zealand) stands apart from the shows blessed by the key international authorities OIV and INAO. Under the Australian system, every judge and every associate must be able to precisely explain why he or she gave any particular wine points that were at odds with their fellow judges. This is the accountability which is totally and utterly lacking in the European system, where the points go off to a computer, there is no discussion, and, indeed, none of the judges know what points there fellows awarded. In my view, those shows are sterile and devoid of any use other than marketing.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rick Kinzbrunner - a former cork salesman - really seems to have been enjoying media street of late. Interesting that he doesn't have much fondness for screwcap. Makes me wonder why he bottles his wines under it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with "the system helped ‘drag the bottom end up’ but now it’s doing the opposite. ‘It’s holding people back" We have improve so much in our tasting . We all had done courses to lower our threshold for faults. Any v.a., brett., green, oxidation you out.No becouse they are in the wine the wine is faulty. I had drink fantastic French and Spanish wines that will no get more the a bronce medal in an Australian wine show. Probably is time to modified the system to stop holding people back. We should embrace the diversity in wine.

Anonymous said...

Wineries are the ones holding back stock of their top wines. me being a sommelier; finds it very difficult to get any Giaconda Chardonnay as they won't sell it to you unless you buy other wines from their range?? seriously? what is wrong with Australian winemakers/wineries?!?

Anonymous said...

It's a pity that VA and musty funk are so under-appreciated in Australian judging circles. Just imagine cheering on another La Nina vintage, bringing with it the authentic terroir that only a half submerged alpine vineyard can produce.

Anonymous said...

I take it James thinks Rick K.- is talking thru his hat! as a consumer, retailer, wineshow steward, sommelier,and winemaker (in order of importance) i agree there is a major disconnect between; winemakers/ wine 'cogniscenti' (writers/tossers etc.) AND the general public- most of whom id suggest have never heard of roussanne, let alone giaconda nor rick k! Before braying about wineshow semantics, how about educating the public to the existence of 'rieslings that arent sweet' and 'chardonnay thats not buttery'- then maybe there wouldnt be a need to vinepull old roussanne plots at all! just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I judge widely at wine shows - mostly in Australia. Perhaps a decade ago there was adherence to the occurrence described by Rick Kinzbrunner - but the judges I see are well and truly aware of having too narrow a focus. hence discussions/debates about awards often dwell on the balance of complexity, interest and perhaps funk on the one hand and brightness/freshness/fruit expression on the other. I concur with James Halliday that shows select non-winemaker judges frequently. The question of balance is an issue here as well - if too many consumer judges then "pretty" wines often win at the expense of deeper concentrated undeveloped wines - which is the opposite of Kinzbrunner's recommendation on consumer judges.
Andrew Corrigan MW

Anonymous said...

Just to add some facts to the thread: Rick Kinzbrunner has judged at shows, but Halliday would not know as he has never bothered to find out. Likewise Kinzbrunner has attended many after show tastings. He has never been a cork salesman. And it might do you all good to reflect on the fact the most of our top small producers do not enter shows. I think they are voting with their feet. The shows are still run by a small ingroup of people who have never made seriously good wine on a continuing basis. If James actually wants to stop the ponitificating why not get off his backside and go and visit the plethora of small wineries that shun the wine system. Ahh that might be too much like hard work and he may not like to hear what they have to say. Best of all they say in their wines, and they thank God are not boring show wines.

Anonymous said...

I made the cork salesman comment. If indeed he has never imported and sold cork, then I take that comment back, with apologies.

Anonymous said...

Irony: Rick Kinzbrunner complains of the Australian need to "cut people down to size", as he tries to cut the people involved in the show system down to size.

Ewan Campbell said...

Consumers buy wine for a variety of reasons and the medal factor is, I think, a diminishing part of the equation.
To argue that Australian wine styles are controlled by the show system is a long bow to draw but wine style trends come and go and I'm sure there is many a judge who has looked back and cringed thinking of what they awarded the top gold to last decade!
Can you tell me "anonymous fact supplier" if any other Australian has volunteered more personal time to the Australian wine industry than Halliday? I think you'll find he is rarely on "his backside".

Wine Companion Team said...

It was mildly amusing that I should read the interchange of coments on the linked subjects of closures and wine shows. The first wines I tasted at the end of the 1940s and up to 1955 were almost all from the Hunter Valley, and were in turn semillon (then variously called riesling, Hunter River riesling, Chablis, hock and White Burgundy) and shiraz (variously called Hermitage, Claret and Burgundy). By the time I began my Arts Law course in 1955 as a fresher at St Paul’s College, I had already accumulated a fair bit of taste knowledge, albeit very little technical knowledge. Over the next six years my knowledge grew exponentially, albeit garnered from visits to the handful of cellar doors open in the Hunter Valley (Tulloch, Elliot’s and Drayton’s). Even the visits to Tulloch were by special arrangement through the St Paul’s College wine cellar and Elliot’s was through a wine shop in Cessnock. Tyrrell’s was also accessible with prior contact, although the wines were not conventionally labelled; Anne Tyrrell typed the details on lab labels which were then glued to the bottles.

My introduction to Lindemans came after I returned to Australia after a year rambling through Europe, and through an introduction arranged by my father to taste Lindemans’ wines at its Sydney warehouse where all of the Hunter Valley wines were bottled and labelled.

Why am I boring you rigid with all this? Well, there would be very few wine drinkers alive today to have tasted more semillon over the past 50 or so years than I have. It has also resulted in an excessively large amount of semillon in my cellar, which I have long since given up counting because so much of the wine predating 1980 has been ravaged by sporadic oxidation and catastrophically diminished levels in the bottles. I have a light box so I can very quickly tell whether the colour of a given wine is darker than it should be, and right now and over the Christmas/New Year period I will be throwing out thousands of bottles of ravaged semillon and riesling (where much the same story applies) without worrying about the wines. Note I have not mentioned cork taint (TCA) and only briefly mentioned bottles where 10% of more of the wine has made its way past the cork.

Simply because chardonnay is, in relative terms, a much later arrival on the scene, the mortality rate is lower. The saving grace is that I have a steadily increasing number of bottles of riesling, semillon and chardonnay sealed with screwcap. The one thing I will not do is buy white wines with other closures, Diam included, even though on the evidence to date it is the best alternative if, for marketing reasons, you have to put a piece of tree bark in a bottle, following a 350-year-old protocol.

Red wines are in a somewhat different category. They have an inbuilt supply of antioxidants that white wines do not have: the tannins extracted during fermentation foremost among these, and — of far less importance — higher levels of SO2. But, just as I will not buy any white wine not sealed with a screwcap, I am exceedingly wary of buying red wines so sealed, most particularly pinot noirs/burgundies. As to the exhortation that I should get off my backside and do some wine show judging, reference to the records that were held by Australian Society of Viticulture & Oenology (having retired from judging, I’m not too sure whether this record has been continued) I judged more shows between 1977 and 2007 than any other judge on the register.

One final comment: I greatly admire Rick Kinzbrunner’s wines, the recollection of his 1996 Chardonnay likely to remain with me for the rest of my life. As a person, he is beyond reproach, holding to his views because they have been created out of his own substantial warehouse of practical experience. He should not have to defend himself, but I must say his judging career and mine never crossed paths.

Dick Friend said...

There are 2,600 cellar doors in Australia. While James made the most of the limited opportunities for cellar door visitation in the late 1950s, and has certainly travelled the regions since, now no-one has an excuse to sample both the wine show winners and the wines from those who hold them back.
"Oz Cellar Doors" maps 2,600 locations for tasting at wineries (730 of which are open by appointment). The iPhone/iPad App provides details on each, searchable by name, region or proximity to the user's location.
Visiting them to record the locations accurately with GPS equipment certainly got me off my bum!

Anonymous said...

James, I think this is a perfectly good time for a New Year resolution. Don't publish 'anonymous' comments.

Anonymous said...

Some great discourse here and I appreciate the editorial discretion to allow all perspectives to be heard. I wanted to focus on your (James) comments on the European judging system vs the Australian one. I would suggest the European system superior (and I'm Australian) because it allows all palates to be heard. In the Australian system it is a classic "decision by committee" mentality i.e. the loudest personality wins out. It is more about the chief judge's palate than anything else. This promotes "homogenization" of the results, which is the single biggest criticism of Australian wine internationally at present. I live overseas and it saddens me when the average person I speak to thinks all Australian wine tastes like Yellow Tail. But that is another subject...

Anonymous said...

A late comment I know but anyhow...I think everyone missed the point of Kinzbrunner's comments. He was questioning the RELEVANCE of the wine show system as no consumers are involved in judging. I've been selling wine for years and have found that what the drinking public enjoy drinking, and what most current Australian wine writers (reviewers really, excepting JH) enjoy, are two different things. If wine shows are held for all us industry people then so be it, but the punter doesn't really give two hoots. Small wineries don't enter because it is expensive, does not aid their sales and in some cases can be detrimental to their profile. Giaconda wines and many interesting small winery wines are different, maybe not as industrially clean as big winery wines, but very enjoyable, unique and generally well received by the public. If the wine show system is so positive and supportive of different styles and winemaking nuances, why are our wines on the nose overseas and why are we importing more different/funky European wines than ever before....

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