Friday, January 21, 2011

The success of the Orange wine region

The Orange wine region has two advantages: it has consistently produced a series of very good wines in recent years, and has an active PR business supporting it (David Cumming of Define Wine,

In a recent release he points out that its 1500 hectares of vines represents less than 1% of the national total. Its two most successful varieties, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, respectively represent 0.7% and 1.6% of the national plantings. Taste Orange Executive Office Kim Currie is understandably very pleased with the track record of Orange in the 2010 calendar year (coming, as it did, on the back of prior years with similar success). Five wines were in the Top 40 of the 2010 New South Wales Wine Awards, two of those respectively winning trophies for Best Young Sauvignon Blanc and Best Young Red Blend (with a cabernet merlot).

Further trophies at the 2010 New South Wales Small Winemakers Wine Show followed for Best Sauvignon Blanc; trophy for Best Pinot Gris at the 2010 Cowra Wine Show; trophy for Other White Varieties (Pinot Gris) at the 2010 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards; trophies for Best Shiraz Award and Best Red Wine Award at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge 2010; two wines ranked equal fifth with gold medals at the 2010 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge; and a gold medal for a Pinot Noir at the 2010 New Zealand International Wine Show.

A region for all seasons, it would seem.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The NZ Riesling Challenge

New Zealand has recently come up with an interesting competition for Riesling. Called the NZ Riesling Challenge, it involved 12 winemakers pre-selected to each make a riesling using grapes picked from the same vineyard at the same time in 2010. The initiative was that of Mud House Wines, which provided the four tonnes of hand-picked grapes to each winemaker. They were encouraged to use whatever method they considered most appropriate, and the winner was Matt Donaldson of the Pegasus Bay winery. He commented, ‘The fruit was in perfect condition but picked a little earlier than we do for our Pegasus Bay Riesling, so we thought we would have a little experimental fun and froze the bunches before gently pressing. This raised the degree Brix from 22 to 25. Fermentation was clean and cool and stopped according to taste to give a luscious classic style.’

The wines were judged by the participating winemakers under the direction of Chairman of Judges, Bob Campbell MW. All of the wines have now been bottled, and 2000 cases containing one bottle of each of the 12 wines made will be available for public purchase through the participating wineries, the Mud House Wine Group, and a dedicated NZ Riesling Challenge website. For more information on the background of Mud House Wine and its director, Neil Charles-Jones, contact Mark Devlin,

For the record, second place went to Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines and third place to Mike Brown from Golden Hills Estates.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Constellation deal as clear as mud

A 'clarification' of the Constellation sale posted on the Wine Spectator website written by Tyson Stelzer makes the deal, as Alice in Wonderland might say, curiouser and curiouser. Apart from the fact that separate sale agreements have been entered into in respect to the Leasingham and Stonehaven wineries, with one voice Constellation reiterates it is selling the brands, but in the next breath says it will have no effect on the company's brands and distribution. Anita Poddar, Group Public Relations Manager is quoted as saying 'The arrangement is that existing portfolios and distribution channels will remain unchanged in the US, Australia and Europe.'

So the proposition is that Constellation, faced with a mountain of debt and unable to manage its businesses profitably, is selling the assets but retaining the burden of marketing and distribution. It is hard to see that it will have any incentive to protect the value of the brands, which it no longer owns, and would make me feel very uncomfortable if I were the purchaser of the assets.

I can't believe I understand the deal properly, and only wish that Tony Keys would hasten back from holidays to put the cleaner through it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Helm Wines rated in top 5 Australian Wines in England

Ken Helm used to manufacture press releases on the back of winning a bronze medal here or there, usually with his Riesling. How times have changed, with gold medals pouring like rain; it was almost more of the same when highly respected English wine writer Sarah Ahmed (The Wine Detective named the 2010 Helm Premium Riesling as one of her five top Australian wines tasted in 2010 (during a Wine Australia visit to Australia in September). For the record, the others were 2008 Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay, 2008 La Violetta La Ciornia, 2006 Tyrrell's 4 Acres Shiraz and 2001 Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon. An interesting mix of wines, I am sure you will agree.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Constellation licks its wounds

I am still pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming. Constellation Brands Inc has agreed to sell its Australian and UK operations (excluding Leasingham – see below) to Champ Private Equity of Sydney in a transaction valued at $AUD290 million. This is one of the biggest discounts the wine industry has ever seen: a discount of 85% compared with the acquisition of $1.9 billion in 2003. For reasons which entirely escape me, Constellation is retaining a 20% share of the assets, so the cash payment it receives will be $230 million. The deal also extends to Constellation’s brands in South Africa, but excludes those in New Zealand. There is much more to this story to come out in the new year.