Robert Smyth recaps the Circle’s new way of doing tastings — virtually. He shares how it has changed his experience as an overseas member, and reflects on one of his favourite sessions from this month.
As an overseas member of the CWW, it has always been a challenge for me to participate in many ‘live’ Circle events, which often take place in the London area. For example, as much as I’ve always wanted to go, the Circle’s Christmas Party invariably falls on a date when I just can’t hop over to the British capital from my home in Budapest. While in one respect the Covid-19 crisis may have made the world a lot smaller and more-centred on our immediate surroundings, at least for the time being, in another respect the wider (wine) world has become much more accessible – at least virtually.
I, for one, am really enjoying the ‘Let’s talk about…’ series of webinars currently being hosted by the Circle on a pretty much weekly basis, and I also hope they will continue to be a feature of the post-Covid world. With just a couple of clicks, we are transported to wine regions or to presentations by experts in their fields.
One of my highlights this month was Wink Lorch’s ‘Let’s talk about Savoie and the Alps’ webinar, based on her book Wines of the French Alps. Despite never having met in person, I enjoyed a great working relationship with Wink Lorch (I hope she shares the same opinion!) as her deputy editor, when she was the editor of the Circle’s Update. It was a pleasure to catch up with Wink over the webinar and her fascinating talk. Just when I thought I was getting to grips with the grapes of the world, then comes Wink and the multitude of grapes of the French Alps!
Concentrating for the sake of brevity mainly on Savoie, which was “arguably saved” by the ski industry although “young organic producers are refusing to sell to ski resorts”, Wink’s presentation was full of the kind of nuggets of information that her writing always contains. We learnt that “Limestone dominates everywhere…” and that there are “very diverse soils as things happen in mountains, things move, mountains influence the weather [that’s based on a continental climate] massively. These factors have led to a huge diversity of grape varieties, which Wink described as “possibly the most diverse in France, with the possible exception of South West France”.
The acid-driven wines are unsurprisingly about freshness and lightness. While Jacquère accounts for 42% of Savoie’s total plantings and is characterised by “gorgeous freshness and low alcohol”, it is another white grape – Altesse – which is more exciting for Wink, believed to be indigenous, possibly related to Chasselas and accounts for 15% of plantings. Then, alongside certain better-known grapes as Chardonnay and Roussanne, there’s Gringet, Molette, Mondeuse Blanche, Verdesse, Clairette, Bia Blanc, Blanc de Maurienne (aka Rèze), Petite Sainte Marie and Cacaboué – and that’s just the whites of the French Alps!
One thing that is missing within our CWW webinars is the live tasting element, and there also exists the challenge of how we can possibly monetize Zoom presentations (not an issue for many of the presenters) going forward. But for many members of the very well-attended Circle webinars, ‘Let’s talk about…’ has not only provided relief from lockdown gloom, but also a valuable new communication tool and a way to stay connected.
In case you missed it…
Savoie and the French Alps with Wink Lorch
Wink Lorch kicked off the month of online talks sharing her insight into the style of wines produced in Alpine regions. Her presentation was drawing from her in-depth research for her recently published second book ‘Wines of the French Alps: Savoie, Bugey and beyond’.
Poggio al Tesoro with Marilisa Allegrini
Marilisa Allegrini discussed the work done at their Bolgheri estate Poggio al Tesoro, looking at how they have taken it from a new estate to be one of the top producers in Bolgheri in the last 15 years.
Covid-19 and the UK wine business with David Cartwright
David Cartwright shared an insight as to how Covid-19 is affecting the UK wine business, in particular the off-trade. His presentation focused on how multiple retailers can and have faced the challenges; what producers can do to succeed in the UK market in this period; and how trends might change post-lockdown.
Cabernet Franc and Chenin with Jéröme Billard
Following a stint at Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, Jerome Billard worked at Dominus Estate in the Napa Valley, Sacred Hill Estate in New Zealand and is now at Domaine de la Noblaie in Chinon. He discussed two varieties the Loire is well known for – Chenin and Cabernet Franc.
The future of wine tourism — post Covid-19
This collaborative conversation looked at how the wine tourism world might look after the pandemic, and what threats and opportunities there are for the months and years to come. Joining the discussion were Reva Singh (Founder & Editor-in-Chief of India’s first wine magazine); Marisah Nieuwoudt (Wine Tourism Manager at Vinpro, a non-profit company which represents 2,500 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders); Fiona Morrison MW (who runs three Bordeaux wine châteaux as well as the family négociant business); Count Francesco Marone Cinzano (owner of Col d’Orcia estate in Montalcino & Viña La Reserva de Caliboro in the Maule valley in Chile); and Filippo Magnani (a professional wine guide based in Tuscany specialising in customized wine tours for wine professional and wine enthusiasts).
Alistair Morrell: Cider is Wine
Alistair Morrell, long-time wine trade executive and journalist, chief cider officer; and Roddy Kane, chief cider marketing officer discussed the virtues of this much unrecognised and under-developed sector of fine cider and why it can and perhaps should be as appreciated as fine wine.
You can find recordings of these webinars here.