Monday, 3 May 2010

Fine Wine 2010, Ribera del Duero

I've just got back from three intense and exciting days at the Fine Wine 2010 conference in Ribera del Duero organized by market research company Wine Intelligence.

The conference drew some of the wine world's big guns, including Michael Mondavi, Olivier Krug, Serge Hochar and Ernst Loosen, who all tried to define the term 'fine wine' and what it means for the consumer.

Fresh from judging at the IWC, Tim Atkin MW opened the conference with an engaging speech urging for a new definition of the term 'fine wine' beyond Bordeaux and called for an end to the wine world's obsession with Bordeaux, or 'Bordeaux-itis' as he christened it.

Atkin warned about the wine world becoming like Wall Street, accusing investors of losing sight of wine's true purpose: ‘Fine wine is becoming a source of investment. We’ve lost sight of what wine is all about – pulling a cork and enjoying it with friends. Wine is in danger of turning into a commodity to be traded’.

He also accused wine writers, particularly American journalists, of talking about wines with 'an absence of context’ and only considering what was in the bottle. ‘American wine writers have forgotten where wine comes from. I find it unbelievable that Robert Parker only visited Spain for the first time last year.' The speech ended with a call to arms for journalists to travel to where the wine is made and get out into the vines - to experience the terroir first hand.

Fifth generation winemaker Mark Beringer, currently at the helm of Artesa Vineyards in Carneros, talked about a desire for simplicity in winemaking and going 'back to basics'. He touched on the increasing importance of organic, sustainable winemaking, and a growing trend for vegetarian and vegan wines.

According to Beringer, 2010 is a golden time for consumers, who look set to benefit from the dramatic discounting taking place in California. 'There is great value coming out of California at the moment. With less wine bring made at the premium level, the top wines are moving down through the pyramid and becoming more affordable'.

'Pricing is a real issue in Napa as there isn't much middle ground. The top wines aren't selling and are leaving wineries in a mess. It's great news for the consumer. Winemakers are becoming even more selective, and the reserve wines are truly reserve quality'. Beringer ended by stressing the importance of social media as a way of reaching out to consumers, taking a picture of fellow speakers Serge Hochar, Pablo Alvarez and Olivier Krug and posting it on twitter as he spoke.

Serge Hochar of Château Musar described fine wine as 'a state of mind', but conceded that a fine wine needed 'elegance, finesse, complexity and ageing potential' - recurring buzz words during the conference. He spoke of the globalization of the wine world, the importance of emerging markets like China and India, and the need for winemakers to visit these places to tell their story. Hochar also called for transparency in winemaking, and a need to make wines 'without edifice or make-up'.

Pablo Alvarez, of icon Spanish estate Vega Sicilia, spoke of the need for Spain to learn how to market their wines better, and to shout about them more unashamedly. Imbuing wines with personality was paramount, he said, as grape character is the only thing that can't be copied. Alvarez called for Spanish winemakers to get their wines out on the global stage and give them more of a presence, as phenomenal wines are coming out of the country.

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