Tag Archives: wine

Wine, whiskey and spirit delivery service in Singapore: Interview with Epicurio Founder Clément Hochart

If you’ve always found it hard to keep track of your favourite reds and whites, or have always been curious about what fellow connoisseurs are into, Clément Hochart’s got the ideal solution for you. Armed with an immense passion for wine (enough to create a dedicated app for it), the Frenchman has launched Epicurio, a social wine and spirits marketplace.

Clément may have started his career as an engineer, but always felt his calling was in entrepreneurship. As a wine lover, his foray into the industry was only natural and in 2012, he started on an app to help wine lovers on their tasting journey. Today, Clément shows no signs of slowing down — Epicurio now boasts wine news and tasting notes by bloggers and journalists, and even an online wine store. Impressively, it is the only place online where you can find superlative names such as Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Premiere Cru Embazées, Mongeard-Mugneret, Vougeot Premiere Cru Les Cras and Domaine Henri Boillot Batard-Montrachet. We speak to him about Epicurio, why he chose Singapore and some of his favourite wines.

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Clement and Nikhil (center) with lead developer Dennis

It took two years for the app to go from an idea to reality. What were the challenges you faced and lessons you’ve learnt in the process?

I was previously an engineer in the steel industry, so Epicurio is not only my first company, but also my first time in the wine or mobile business. It took one year to build the beta version of the app and I realised that it was hard for the business to take off if I’m doing it part-time.

I saw a big growth after Nikhil Gupta joined (Epicurio’s CTO and co-founder) and we launched the app developed by our own team, which he manages. We could adapt to what the market wanted faster than if we worked with external developers. Honestly, Nikhil’s role is key and I feel like Epicurio as it is today would not be possible without his input. He is the architect of our innovations, both on the back-end with systems and the UX (user experience) for anyone using our app.

Actually, it isn’t really about learning lessons but realizing that developing the app is a continuous process and that’s what’s exciting. We keep learning and we keep moving.

We understand you chose to create this app because of your love for wine, what is it about wine that you enjoy so much? Also, why did you choose Singapore to launch this app?

When I was in France about 5 years ago, I used an app called Evernote but it was not very convenient. I really love wine and I used to help friends select wine. Once I even helped a friend select the wine for his big gala dinner. The mystery of wine is something we cannot clearly decipher — there are thousands of factors that go into making a wine tasty. We cannot control these factors so we always learn by experience, and that’s what Epicurio was created to help with.

I’ve always wanted to start a company and wine has always been my passion. The Singapore aspect came later. For Nikhil, he was more of a beer person at the start but now he’s definitely a wine man!

Anyway, from our experience, we realized that Singapore’s industry structure was one that would allow us to test and learn about the app. This would be easier given that the market is not only small, but also has more boutique wines because the tax structure encourages importers to choose quality over quantity. Singapore is also a market onto itself, which is different from Hong Kong because she has a large China market for re-export.

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Is there a large local community that is interested in this market? How responsive have people been to using this app?

People have really welcomed the app as a useful innovation because it helps them keep track of their favorite wines, plus they can choose from up to 2,000 boutique wines to purchase from at the best price in the market. However, it was still new and innovative when we introduced it as we were the one and only social marketplace for wine and spirits in Asia. It has always been our plan to have an international presence, and we have since expanded from Singapore to Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong and France.

What is the advantage of using this app over going to a physical store, apart from the delivery service provided?

Most of the physical stores in Asia don’t provide the quality of advice that you would perhaps get in France. The app can not only be used as an online delivery service, but also to deliver quality advice that is consistent no matter where you are. The best way to learn about wine is not only to drink it but also to consider what you are drinking. By making notes and uploading a picture of the label, the app is also a good tool to recall what you’ve tasted, and you will realize the commonalities between the wines you consume.

With the app, you also get honest opinions and notes from the rest of the community. They are all actual consumers who provide genuine opinions and are aware of the price they pay for the product. You might even find like-minded wine drinkers that share similar taste profiles.

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We’re sure you have a long list of favorites when it comes to wine, but if you could only choose one, which would it be?

I enjoy Rhone Valley, Hermitage, Languedoc, New Zealand pinot noir, Californian Sonoma County, Italian Barolo, New Zealand and Australian riesling…I’ve never asked myself what my favorite wine is – I enjoy diversity!

While Epicurio started out with wine, Champagne and branched out to offer a delivery service, we heard that we can now purchase Whiskies and Spirits as well. Could you tell us more about the selection available?

After discovering more and more whiskies and old spirits I wanted to add a dimension in Epicurio for aged spirits like whisky, brandy, rum and boutique gin. We then got a whisky expert in and started to source for amazing whiskies and aged spirits both locally and from abroad. That was how we started to bring in rare and premium whiskies in Singapore, Hong-Kong and Malaysia.

What is the 1-hour delivery service about and is it available throughout the island? 

Thanks to developments from our team and strong partnership with importers we have setup a One Hour Delivery Service Island wise for 300 labels. From 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturdays and on Sunday until 9pm you can get wine to your door within an hour. We have recently reduced our delivery fee so you can get this service now for $15, no matter how many bottles you order.

You were a part of the inaugural SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS last year. Could you tell us more about your role at the event and what you enjoyed from being a part of the event?

We were the exclusive Partner of the SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS for wine and we organised a beautiful and exclusive Wine Fair in Singapore that featured over 50 premium labels.

What does Epicurio have in store for us in 2017? 

2017 will be the year of growth. We will start having events in Hong-Kong and Malaysia and stronger digital presence. Accelerating growth with 500 Startups VC from US we will get the Industry Experts to help us boost this growth to the exponential level with a big focus on the customer experience, which is our strength today. I want to take this opportunity to thank our customers who sent me congratulatory messages for the accomplishment, services and features of our app.

Are there any plans to expand the business into other parts of the region? 

Yes, we have initiated expansions into Hong-Kong, Malaysia and Philippines and we will be boosting those countries by having a dedicated team in each of them starting from the middle of 2017.

Is there a wine trend that sticks out in Singapore? Do Singaporeans have a preference when it comes to the wine that they enjoy? 

I would say the most significant observation I made which amuses me is expats drink Champagne while Singaporeans drink Red Wine. Fabulous, probably because expats party and Singaporeans love food for which reds go well with.

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Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now.

Who Decides What Wine Presidents Drink?

Hunting Fraudsters in French Wine Heartland

Hunting Fraudsters in French Wine Heartland

Crafty winemakers throughout the ages have sought sneaky ways to pass off low-grade plonk as top vintages, and the jailing this month of a French wine baron shows the practice is still alive and well.

Francois-Marie Marret was given a two-year sentence for fraud for blending poor quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The 800,000-liter (211,000-gallon) “moon wine” fraud, so called because the cheap wine was spirited to his operation by night, was uncovered thanks to the diligent work of French customs inspectors.

They carefully track the wine produced by France’s tens of thousands of vineyards to protect the country’s multi-billion euro (dollar) industry – and to make sure drinkers are getting what they are paying for.

Around the Bordeaux region, home to some of France’s most prestigious – and expensive – wines, the eagle-eyed customs officials check vats, barrels, pallets, bottles and vines.

They draw up a meticulous inventory of stocks to ferret out both minor rule-bending and larger-scale fraud – detected once or twice a year on average, according to customs inspectors.

“Customs service, we’ve come to do a stock inspection,” declares Bertrand Bernard, head of the customs’ five-person wine service in the Libourne area, as he arrives at the Cave de Lugon cooperative.

Lugon, a village on the right bank of the Dordogne river, lies around 25 kilometers (15 miles) northeast of Bordeaux city.

Jean-Marie Esteve, who has been a “maitre de chai” or master winemaker since 1984, is happy to cooperate.

“It doesn’t make me particularly nervous,” Esteve tells AFP. “There’s always a difference between what is declared and what is measured. But over the 40,000 to 45,000 hectoliters we have, it’s never more than a few hectoliters” – well within the permitted limits.

Jean-Luc Caboy, the head of the cooperative, which includes 110 winemakers working around 750 hectares (1,800 acres) of vines, says they check in with customs officials regularly “to make sure we are okay in terms of the regulations”.

Swill, sniff, pour away

The inspection begins with the imposing concrete vats that date back to the creation of the cooperative in 1937, where heady aromas float in the air.

Opening a small tap, Esteve pours a little red wine into a glass and hands it to Christian Lafon, the main customs inspector.

He checks the color, swills and then sniffs the wine, before pouring it into a bucket, satisfied.

“We’re checking to see that it is really wine from the last vintage and not a blend… If there is any doubt we take a sample away for analysis,” he says. But at Lugon all is well.

The inspection continues on the upper floor, where Lafon, torch in hand, looks under the cover of each vat.

“That’s full, no problem,” he tells his two colleagues, who are scrupulously noting the volume of wine measured in each vat, one on computer, one on paper.

In a warehouse next door, he counts barrels of wine, knocking on each one to make sure it is full, before moving on to count bottles stored on pallets, almost one by one — because every liter counts in the customs inventory.

“We compare the volumes declared by the cave with what we find when we do the inventory. We subtract what has been taken out and see what remains. If it’s under, it’s often due to losses during the winemaking process (evaporation, decanting, etc). If it’s over, it could be a miscounting during the harvest,” Lafon said.

“There can be a few differences, often mistakes. Beyond that, it can reveal a system of organised fraud.”

‘Moon wine’ fraud

It was this careful accounting that revealed the “moon wine fraud”, which also saw winemaker Marret hit with a fine of eight million euros ($8.9 million).

More than a dozen others were convicted along with Marret, including a wine merchant, two brokers and three other producers.

“It all started with inconsistencies between the stocks checked on the ground and the documents filed by the chateaus,” says Jeff Omari, regional deputy director of customs in Bordeaux.

Customs officers then dissected the movement of wine around the vineyards in question and analysed samples “to work up through the chain of fraud and all the players involved: winemakers, brokers, transporters, and so on – nearly two years of investigation in total,” Omari said.

France is the world’s biggest wine exporter by value, accounting for 29 percent of the market at 8.2 billion euros in 2015, and top Bordeaux labels such as Chateau Petrus sell for upwards of 1,000 euros a bottle.

But the country has been hit by several fraud scandals in recent years.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.

Vinexpo Tokyo Introduces Emerging Wine Regions

Following its debut in 2014, Vinexpo Tokyo returns this week to give wine enthusiasts a look at relatively lesser-known wine producer regions. Some 200 wine producers from more than 12 countries will be participating in the Japanese edition of the world’s most prestigious wine fair, including names from Moldova, Romania, Austria and Switzerland.

Although Japan’s wine industry is dominated by wine producers from France, Italy and Chile, Vinexpo Tokyo will introduce visitors to wines from regions “off the beaten path”, said Jon Arvid Rosengren, a Swedish wine expert who took the title of Best Sommelier 2016.

Rosengren will hold a masterclass on sparkling wines from Austria. Meanwhile, Paolo Basso, Best Sommelier of the World 2013, will showcase wines from his home country of Switzerland.

Vinexpo Tokyo will also feature American winemakers for the first time, such as Brotherhood, America’s oldest winery which is located at the Hudson River region of New York.

In Japan, wine imports totalled 2,793,000 hectoliters in 2015, worth 176.28 billion yen (€1.41 billion), an increase of nearly 4 percent in both volume and value compared to 2014.

Japan is Asia’s biggest market for imported spirits and the second biggest market in Asia for wine.

Vinexpo Tokyo is expected to attract 4,500 trade visitors. The event takes place November 15 to 16 at Prince Park Tower Hotel.

Epicurio Launches 1-Hour Delivery Service

In Singapore, nothing is easier than getting food delivered to your doorstep. With the right apps, you basically can satisfy your cravings within a hour. When it comes to wine, though, things are a little bit different — or at least it was. Epicurio, the fastest-growing wine and spirits social community in Asia, with more than 3,300 wines and spirits available, has just launched a brand new game-changing service: a 1-Hour Express Delivery.

From 10am to 8pm, Monday through Saturday, app users can pick the wine or spirit they are looking for – among 370 references – and have it delivered wherever they want, across the entire island, in one hour. The fixed additional delivery fee is S$20 – no matter how many bottles you order. So you can get ready for unexpected guests, good news celebrations with no fuss or simply get a bottle of Bordeaux to unwind after work.

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Visit Epicurio to see the full list of wine and spirits available for the 1-Hour Express Delivery

Exclusive for Luxuo readers in Singapore:

Epicurio will be hosting a party to officially announce the launch of their 1-Hour Express Delivery on 22nd of November 2016. Guests will enjoy a wine as they learn more about the Service. Please [email protected] for an exclusive invite.

Moët & Chandon MCIII 001.14

Moët & Chandon MCIII Brut 001.14: Multi-Vintage

Aging has never looked this good and it is all thanks to the Moët & Chandon MCIII Brut 001.14. More about that somewhat awkward name in a bit. Released just over a year ago, it has taken awhile to get to some markets here in Southeast Asia. The luxury champagne producer has created a multi-vintage champagne using vintage wines that are matured in three distinct environments. To craft a truly bold and unique vintage, Moët & Chandon captured the attributes that are associated with each aging environment.

Using a three-stratum assemblage process, the ultra-premium cuvée has been 15 years in the making and appears to be a new favorite amongst champagne lovers around the world. The first of the stratums sees an equal mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 2003 vintages, aged in stainless steel vats that provides a rich and fruity flavor.

The second stratum sees grand vintages from the 1998, 2000 and 2002 harvests that have been aged in oak casks before being stored in stainless steel vats. The final 25% of the cuvée is made up of the third stratum that blends Grand Vintages from 1993, 1998 and 1999. The three acclaimed vintage champagnes were bottled, aged and then disgorged before being blended into the mix.

The result of this carefully crafted mix is a fragrant champagne that features notes of coffee, malt, mocha, praline, liquorice, Tonka bean, pecan, citrus peel, citron, kumquat, bergamot and verbena. According to the Chef de Cave of the House of Moët & Chandon, the MCIII Brut 001.14 is best enjoyed in a Zalto Denk’Art Cristal Glass, which boasts ideal proportions and angles that preserve the freshness of the wine and enhances its flavor. Getting back to the name, the 14 refers to the year of disgorgement (2014) while the 001 refers to the batch (it is the first).

The Moët & Chandon MCIII Brut 001.14 can be purchased at Moët & Chandon.

SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS

SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS: Epicurio Wine Fair

In case you have yet to discover the lineup for the SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS, we are on hand to provide you a quick rundown of what is in store. Today, the team behind Epicurio was on hand to kick off the Epicurio Wine Fair at the Raffles Marina. The Epicurio Wine Fair will run from 4 to 6 pm each day.

Épicurio founder Clément Hochart

Épicurio founder Clément Hochart hosting a wine tasting on board the Royal Albatross

Over the next three days, wine lovers and aspiring sommeliers will have a chance to sample over 50 boutique and fine wines. From brands such as Vintec Cellar, Riedel Glass and Fiji Water, the Epicurio Wine Fair awaits. Apart from the wide selection available at the SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS, the wine fair is also a chance for visitors to learn more about the Epicurio App. Created by Clement Hochart and Nikhil Gupta in November 2015, the app is a platform through which wine lovers and experts alike can provide reviews and tasting notes.singaporerendezvous_rafflesmarina_14092016wed_mg_1219

At the Epicurio Wine Fair, the experienced users of the app will be on hand to show new users the best ways to utilise the functions on the app. While the wine fair is expected to run for two hours each day, guests will be able to enjoy wines and spirits from Epicurio all-day at the VIP Lounge. Bottles previously tasted at the Wine Fair tasting sessions, will be available for purchase at the VIP Lounge. With a view of the yachts and a perfect spot to catch the sunset, the Epicurio Wine Fair is the perfect place to be.

Penfolds Releases $142,000 Shiraz Bottle

Penfolds Releases $142,000 Shiraz Bottle

Wine lovers with a taste for fancy decanters and very deep pockets can now pick up a bottle of a rare Australian vintage for Aus$185,000 ($142,000).

Winemaker Penfolds on Wednesday released six-liter (1.5 US gallon) offerings of its 2012 Grange Imperial, each stored in a crystal serving vessel made by French glassmaker Saint-Louis.

Each hand-blown decanter holds the equivalent of eight regular-sized bottles of wine, a volume that would normally sell for a total of Aus$6,800.

The “rare and refined” crystal decanter promises owners the “perfect pour”, said Penfolds, which is best known in Australia for its Grange Shiraz.

Its 2008 version, launched three years ago, earned a perfect 100 score from Robert Parker’s US wine magazine Wine Advocate.

Fontana Del Vino, Italy: Free Flowing Wine

Wine Trends: Alcohol-Free with Stevia, Gold Flakes

This year’s SIAL Paris international food fair saw the debut of innovative wines that exchanged alcohol for unusual ingredients such as stevia and 24k gold leaf flakes.

Regarded in some circles as the place to discover what ingredients will be shaping culinary trends, SIAL saw representatives from 104 countries gather in Paris-Nord Villepinte to showcase their latest gastronomical innovation. The idea of alcohol-free wine – something we feel very conflicted about – was presented at the event by Languedoc-Roussillon producer Domaines Pierre Chavin.

Domaines Pierre Chavin diminishes the alcohol content (and also the calories) to zero but preserved the taste through the use of stevia sweetener for their original wine ‘Silhouet’. Stevia is said to be 100 times more potent than sugar, but still natural and forgiving in terms of empty calories. There will be three versions of Silhouet: a white chardonnay, a red merlot, and a sparkling white. The range will retail at Domaines-pierre-chavin.com and selected wine shops.

But that’s not everything that Domaines Pierre Chavin offered at the event. The winemaker also revealed plans to launch a new sparkling wine called Gold Arabesque. This chardonnay will feature 24k gold flakes. The AFP reports that, when consumed, gold helps to combat stress, relieve depression, stimulate collagen production and even reduce wrinkles. Also, it’s aesthetically pleasing. We leave you to do your own research and make your own decisions on this one. There is regular full-alcohol version of this chardonnay, Folie de Pierre instead, which you could try instead.

 

Chinese Wine-Tasters Make History in Blind Test

Chinese Wine-Tasters Make History in Blind Test

Not since Japanese whisky eclipsed Scotch has the world of spirits seen Asia ascendant but that’s what happened when Chinese wine tasters won an important blind tasting test in France.

The competition saw teams from 21 countries put their palates to the test at Chateau du Galoupet wine estate, identifying six bottles of red wine and six bottles of white wine by taste and nose alone. The organizers said the win was like a “thunderbolt in the world of wine.”

Belgium, the runner-up last year, came fourth while former champion Spain placed a distant tenth.

The teams from around the world had to identify the wines’ countries of origin, the grape varieties used in them, their appellations and their vintages.

“Remaining humble even in victory, the astounding Chinese team conceded that in blind tasting 50 percent is knowledge and 50 percent is luck,” the organizers said.

The BBC reports that the team said competition to get on their team was intense. The news organization also pointed out that China’s wine industry is on the rise, with a Chinese winery beating many French rivals to a prestigious gold medal for one of its wines. We think many more such “thunderbolts” are going to come from Asia. Go back and check out the Japanese whisky story for more context

Next year’s championships will be held in Burgundy in the famed Cote d’Or wine-growing region.

Chianti Classico Makers Bid for UNESCO Status

Chianti Classico Makers Bid for UNESCO Status

To mark the 300th anniversary of Italy’s Chianti Classico heritage, winemakers have announced plans to launch a bid for UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Organized by Chianti Classico winemakers who together form a group called the Consortium, the move is meant to put the Chianti region of Italy on the same plane as Piedmont, Burgundy and Champagne, protected wine-growing regions which are all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their long winemaking traditions.

This fall, the Chianti region in Tuscany celebrated 300 years since the Ducal decree that first established the boundaries for Chianti Classico.

The territory’s capitals are Siena and Florence and amount to 71,800 hectares (177,500 acres) of wine country.

Chianti produced outside the designated geographic area is designated by the omission of the word Classico as the two wines are produced in different regions under different sets of production regulations.

Bottles produced in the Chianti Classico region are identifiable by the group’s logo, a black rooster.

To qualify for the designation, Chianti Classico must be produced with a minimum ratio of 80 percent Sangiovese. The remaining 20 percent can be a blend of native grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino and international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

But winemakers of Chianti Classico will be up against another Italian wine-growing region which has long been hoping for UNESCO recognition. The Prosecco-producing region of Valdobbiadene-Conegliano was submitted as an application in 2010 and remains on the ‘tentative’ list.

To be inscribed on the World Heritage List, sites must be of “outstanding universal value” such as bearing a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization.

The 40th session of the World Heritage Committee takes place in Istanbul October 24-26.

Chianti Keeps Rising After 300 years

By the early 18th century, the sale of counterfeit bottles of Chianti wine to ever-thirsty England had become so rife that the local merchant nobles felt compelled to act.

Three hundred years ago on Saturday, Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, issued a decree declaring that chianti wine could only be produced within a designated area between the Renaissance powerhouses of Florence and Siena.

The world’s first legally enforceable wine appellation had been born. The Medici duke’s decree defined an area of 70,000 hectares (175,000 acres) that now produces 35 million bottles a year of chianti classico.

Eighty percent of them are exported to some 100 countries and the region’s reputation has been on an upward curve since the 1980s, making it a magnet for wine pilgrims.

Sipping from a glass of classico riserva in the Enoteca Falorni wine bar and merchant in Greve in Chianti, Diya Khanna says her trip has been an eye-opener.

“In Canada you think of chianti as one type of wine, but if you come here you learn what it’s really all about. There is such a variety of styles,” the Berlin-based Canadian tells AFP.

“All of the classicos we have tried have had this soft velvety finish, like a smooth song that finishes off at the end really, really nicely.”

Brand confusion

Chianti classico producers have long battled confusion among consumers about the difference between their sought-after, geographically restricted wine and the less distinguished simple chianti made in other parts of Tuscany.

Up to 2010, a producer in the heartland area defined by the 1716 decree could produce both. But that practice was banned as part of measures to strengthen the classico brand and its trademark black rooster logo.

Generally lighter and less expensive, ordinary chianti remains associated for many with the staple candle-holder of 1970s Italian trattorias – a bottle half-wrapped in a straw basket known as a ‘fiasco’.

It was from a fiasco that the popes of the 16th century enjoyed their chianti.

But the rounded vessel was to become a symbol of the damage done to the region’s international image by an export-driven boom in which quality was sometimes sacrificed for quantity.

Rugby-loving winemaker

The idea underlying the 1716 decree was that Tuscany’s land and climate had combined serendipitously over centuries with local know-how to guarantee that a wine from chianti would be of a certain style and quality.

Three centuries later, that idea still prevails among the eclectic bunch of characters now producing chianti classico.

But there is also a new emphasis on variations created by particular soils, exposure and altitude – something wine experts refer to as the “terroir” of a particular site.

With his trim beard, gilet and smart suede boots, Marco Mazzoni looks like a gentleman farmer dressed by Giorgio Armani.

But the owner of the small Corte di Valle estate outside Greve insists turning sangiovese grapes into attractive wine is no job for city dilettantes.

“The ground is full of stones and rocks,” he says. “The vines have to suffer to grow and thrive. It makes you sweat.”

At Querciabella on the other side of the valley, rugby-loving winemaker Manfred Ing’s style is more shorts and walking boots as he oversees the harvest of encouragingly plump sangiovese berries: 2016 could be a vintage to remember, he says.

Querciabella is in the vanguard of a push for a shake-up in the rules that would allow classico producers to label their single-vineyard wines as coming from specific micro-zones on the model of Burgundy in France.

Like many of the top Burgundies, Querciabella is farmed organically and according to bio-dynamic principles. Even the use of manure is now eschewed at a property owned by vegan Sebastiano Castiglioni.

“If we want to be still producing chianti here in another 300 years, this is the way to go,” says South African-born Ing as he explains how winter crops such as rocket and wild mustard are used to replenish the vineyard soil in the absence of artificial fertilizers.

Pregnant patience

Once the preserve of men, another thing that has changed in 300 years is that some acclaimed chianti classicos are now made by women.

“We are a small but growing club,” says Susanna Grassi, who gave up the underwear business for wine in 2000 in order to revitalise the family farm.

Grassi’s nine-hectare estate, “I Fabbri” (“The Blacksmiths”), goes up to 680 meters (2,230 feet) altitude, close to the limit of where the heat-loving sangiovese will ripen.

Grassi does not have the option of making powerful, structured wine. Instead the emphasis is on elegance and finesse – a trend towards the expression of pure sangiovese that she thinks Tuscany’s female winemakers are helping to drive.

“I think women do have a different sensibility when it comes to wine,” she tells AFP. “Maybe it is because pregnancy teaches us to wait, knowing that the final result will be “bello” (beautiful).”

Grape Expectations: French Wine Harvest Begins

Grape Expectations: French Wine Harvest Begins

The wine harvest has kicked off in France and experts predict smaller-than-normal yields but “great quality.” After a growing season challenged by frost and hail but capped by abundant sunshine, output is certain to be down so all that’s left to bank on is quality.

Growers on the balmy Mediterranean island of Corsica began the harvest in mid-August, while Rhone vineyards in central France got to work only last week.

Other regions including Bordeaux in the southwest and the Loire Valley are holding off until October.

Vintners everywhere are thanking a dry, hot summer for “lovely, healthy grapes”, said Jerome Despey, who heads the wine division of agriculture ministry offshoot FranceAgriMer. “Overall, we are going to see wines of great quality,” he said.

However, output will be down because of freezing episodes and hailstorms in the spring, especially in Champagne, Burgundy and the Loire Valley, Despey said, predicting “one of the smallest harvests since that of 1993”.

Late last month the government forecast a 10 percent drop in wine production compared with 2015, to 42.9 million hectoliters.

The Bordeaux, Alsace and Beaujolais regions were largely spared the ravages of the spring and are expected to match or exceed last year’s output.

Even within regions some vineyards fared better than others, such as in Champagne where mildew and a fungal disease, esca, added to the weather woes.

France is the world’s top wine exporter by value, accounting for 29 percent of the market at 8.2 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in 2015.

In terms of volume, France ranks third with 14 million hectoliters last year, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine.

UN Hosts First Wine Tourism Conference Georgia

UN Hosts First Wine Tourism Conference Georgia

For the first edition of a UN-organized conference on wine tourism, leaders will gather in the cradle of winemaking next week to discuss the burgeoning industry and its importance in local heritage.

It is a strategic and significant decision to hold the first edition of the UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism in the South Caucasus country of Georgia instead of bigger and more popular wine tourism destinations like France, Italy, Spain or Australia.

By choosing Georgia, organizers are returning to what some experts have described as the birthplace of winemaking.

Evidence of winemaking traditions have been traced back 8,000 years among archeological records found in Georgia, well before reaching Western Europe.

At the conference, experts and industry leaders will discuss the development of a Wine Tourism Prototype, a model that will focus on the integration of wineries in the local cultural, economic, social and environmental heritage.

Sessions will be hosted at different wineries in the Kakheti, Georgia’s main wine-producing region.

The conference will also invariably help promote Georgian wine and the country’s unique winemaking traditions which were inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

Traditional Georgian winemaking entails storing and aging wine in large, egg-shaped clay pots called Qvevri. Likewise, winemaking is a family affair in Georgia, with many households producing their own homemade batch.

“Knowledge and experience of Qvevri manufacture and wine-making are passed down by families, neighbors, friends and relatives, all of whom join in communal harvesting and winemaking activities,” reads a UN profile.

“Children learn how to tend the vines, press grapes, ferment wine, collect clay and make and fire Qvevris through observing their elders…Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of secular and religious events and rituals. Wine cellars are still considered the holiest place in the family home.”

The UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism takes place September 7 -9.

Duval-Leroy Champagne Estate Welcomes Visitors

Duval-Leroy Champagne Estate Welcomes Visitors

France’s Duval-Leroy champagne house is celebrating the upcoming grape harvest with day-long immersion experiences offering wine-tasting and a look behind the scenes of this key stage in the wine-making process.

Known for the refined, elegant nature of its wines, the champagne house located in Vertus, France, is a heavyweight of the official champagne-growing region. More than 250 Michelin-starred restaurants serve one of the house’s tipples, such as the emblematic “Femme de Champagne” vintage.

For the first time, the family has accepted to open the doors of its estate to wine lovers during the upcoming grape harvest – a crucial time for any wine grower. Duval-Leroy has developed a special tour for anyone curious to discover a typical day in the life of a grape picker, without having to sign up for a whole season’s work. During the upcoming harvest, wine lovers are invited to grab a pair of secateurs and follow the instructions of the full-time harvesters. A lunch – an important moment that traditionally brings together all the seasonal workers – will then be served in the vineyard. In the afternoon, “students” will visit the estate and sample the house’s “vins clairs,” the base wines used to make Champagne. This is a rare opportunity for fans of the bubbly stuff to discover the wines used in champagne’s “assemblage” process, before it gets its fizz. The tour costs €50 (approx. $56) per person.

For those with more cash to splash (€300 or approx. $336 per person), a second “immersion” experience concludes the same program of events with a gastronomic dinner, cooked by the Duval-Leroy in-house chef. This champagne-steeped meal promises to tantalize taste buds with stuffed macaroni, black truffles, asparagus and foie gras. Participants can also enjoy a wine-tasting lesson from the cellar master in person. The estate’s “vins clairs” feature on the agenda, along with the chance to sample one of the estate’s most prestigious vintages.

The grape harvest in France’s champagne region is expected to take pace in mid-September. The country’s most northerly wine-growing region experienced challenging weather conditions at the beginning of the year. Almost a quarter of the area in the official champagne-producing region was hit by frost at the end of April. Hail and rain in the springtime brought further damage. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), which represents growers and producers, reported this summer that certain sectors saw twice the average rainfall seen over the last 20 years.

Duval-Leroy Champagne Estate Welcomes Visitors

The Duval-Leroy estate in Vertus, France

Bad Weather Hurts French Wine Output

Bad Weather Hurts French Wine Output

Lovers of fine champagne take note as vintage 2016 looks like it will be in short supply. Fierce storms that hit France in April will help to push wine production down almost 10 percent this year on 2015 output, the ministry of agriculture announced last week.

Unseasonably cool weather through the spring and into the summer will drag overall production down to 42.9 million hectoliters from 47.8 million a year ago, a seven percent fall on a five-year basis, according to the ministry’s statistical service Agreste.

In revising down its outlook, Agreste blamed “the spring freeze that hit certain winegrowing areas, recurring winds made worse by drought around the Mediterranean and damage stemming from frost.”

Champagne was one of the worst hit regions after several bouts of spring frost and hailstorms which are forecast to drag output down by as much as one third, leading to harvesting being already a week behind schedule based on a 10-yearly average.

The inclement weather means France, which has also had to battle outbreaks of rot and mildew, will likely remain behind Italy, which last year claimed the crown as the world’s biggest wine producer.

Most popular spirits 2015

Most Popular Spirit 2015: Cider?

Cider has been on a five-year popularity upswing and is one of the biggest growth stories of 2015. A fresh spirits’ industry report notes that cider, premium tequila and American whiskey enjoyed a spike in popularity in 2015.

The analysts who put together the IWSR Global Trends Report 2016 paint a picture of what the world drank in 2015 – and what it didn’t.

According to the report, while sales of Scotch whisky were flat last year, consumption of US whiskey increased by five percent, or an additional two million, nine-liter cases. There is no news here on Japanese whiskies but we suspect the supply issues plaguing both Japan and Scotland are crimping demand.

One of the biggest driving forces behind increased demand for whiskey is the rise of premium and super-premium whiskeys and demand in North America, which accounts for 70 percent of the market. Honestly, it is about time American whiskey came into its own again instead of settling for being a house-pour favorite. In total, 39.5 million cases were consumed last year.

By contrast, sales of Scotch whisky remained flat at 86.9 million nine-liter cases.

Consumers also seem to have been smitten by cider last year, as it recorded one of the largest increases of any category in 2015. Overall, consumption rose three percent, continuing on a five-year trend. The biggest cider consumers were in Africa and North America.

Over the last few years, the popularity of craft beers has carried over to cider, with breweries making small batches and using local varieties of apples to create a distinctly local product.

Europe cuts down on wine

Tequila continued to be popular in 2015, with consumption growing four percent, or an additional 1.2 million nine-liter cases.

Driving the growth was super-premium tequila, with consumption highest in North America and Latin America, together accounting for 90 percent of overall consumption.

Meanwhile, consumption of still wine dipped last year, to total a loss equivalent to 7.5 million cases.

According to the report, it seems that consumers in key European market are drinking less wine, while consumption is rising the most in North America and posting modest growth in Asia and Africa.

The report also identifies light and floral varietals and spritzers as wine trends that emerged last year.

Meanwhile, 2015 was a lackluster year for vodka, rum, cognac, brandy, flavored spirits and beer, which all posted a dip in global consumption.

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion vineyards 2016

5 Vineyards and Chateaux Seeking Summer Guests

Deep into the weekend, we’re recapping our tour of five vineyards in France and the California. We’re also reexamining our love of wine with an aggressive Pinot Noir from New Zealand (our thanks to the team at Omega Singapore and Salt Grill and Sky Bar at ION, Singapore) and a gentle Merlot from California. At the same time, we will busy here with the upcoming wine auctions in September, notably at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

This frenzy of interest in wine was all sparked with the opening of the Cité du Vin, a cultural center for all things wine-related, in Bordeaux (of course!), and the first anniversary of the Champagne region’s hillsides, houses and cellars gaining UNESCO World Heritage status. All told, we have looked at five impressive vineyards and chateaux, compiled by the AFP Relaxnews.

For your convenience, we’ve reassembled all five choices we published recently and summarized them below.

Ridge Vineyards, California: American Dream

The Monte Bello vineyard

The Monte Bello vineyard

This long-standing wine business is proof that the French are not alone in having been producing wine for centuries. The vast property, which also has vines two hours away by car in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has been making wine since 1885. You might know it for its Monte Bello vintage and its acknowledged expertize with Zinfandel, an emblematic grape variety in California.

Château La Coste: Contemporary Wine

Château La Coste

The Franck O. Gehry music pavilion at Château La Coste

It seems vineyards in France have something of a reputation for hospitality and cultural tours of a sort. Château La Coste for example offers a tour of its art works and architectural structures (15 euros for an adult ticket), which includes pieces by Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Frank O. Gehry. You can even stay right on the grounds in the appropriately named Villa La Coste, a new luxury hotel. The wines are known for being completely organic since 2009, with even the old vines being worked organically.

Champagne House Bollinger: Rare Vintages

Bollinger Champagne Estate

The Bollinger Champagne Estate is located in Ay, France.

You will of course be familiar with Bollinger, either for its association with James Bond or its British royal warrants. On site in Ay, France, Bollinger has an exquisite oenotheque (otherwise known as a wine library), which is well worth a visit and just opened this year. Be warned though: you can’t just go blustering in without calling ahead first, which is only polite.

Château de Béru: Pop-Up Wine Bar

Château de Béru facade

Château de Béru is located near the famous wine town of Chablis. © Thierry Malty Thierry Malty/Château de Béru

Unlike some of the other names here, you may not be familiar with Château de Béru and that is exactly what the winery wants to change. Until August 31, visitors can enjoy a vertical tasting, among other things, with the estate’s owner herself, Athénaïs de Béru. The estate is in Burgundy, in the Chablis region and you should visit with an unprejudiced palate.

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion: 21st Century Winery

Château les Carmes-Haut-Brion

Vat painted by Ara Starck

Like Bollinger, this is a name that requires little introduction outside the world of dedicated wine lovers. Established in 1584 when the Carmelite order took over running the estate, it actually dates further back along with the other Haut-Brion names. This grand old age is masked today by the winery’s reputation for 21st century touches. The Philippe Starck-designed building you’re looking at here is just one example: it is the wine cellar. There are plenty of other contemporary touches, with a strong design philosophy bringing an extra level of charm to the wines.

Ridge Vineyards, California: American Dream

While France may be known for its wine and gastronomic offerings we cannot overlook Californian wines, that not only taste as good but also offer beautiful views away from the city. Today we take a trip with AFPRelaxnews to visit Ridge Vineyards in California to find out more about what the vineyard has in store for the summer.

What’s new this summer?

South of San Francisco, Apple is not the only famous name in the town of Cupertino. There’s also Ridge Vineyards, a long-standing wine business which is proof that the French are not alone in having been producing wine for centuries. The vast property, which also has vines two hours away by car in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has been making wine since 1885.

Famous for its Monte Bello vintage and its expertise with Zinfandel, an emblematic grape variety in California, Ridge Vineyards is starting a new chapter in its history in 2016. Paul Draper, its winemaker, is retiring. This marks a turning point for the international brand which built its reputation through Draper’s choices, making him one of the most influential winemakers in the world. He is now approaching 80 years of age, and has devoted 45 years of his life to the property and to maintaining the quality of its wine. Through his successes and his vision, he is also one of the key people responsible for making California a global benchmark in the wine industry.

The Monte Bello vineyard

The Monte Bello vineyard

The estate

Ridge Vineyards is known for its longevity and the strong personality of its winemaker. In 1885, a doctor bought around 72 square meters of land close to Monte Bello Ridge, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at an altitude of 850 meters. His idea was to plant vines in terraces. In the 1940s, a theologian moved the story forward by investing in a abandoned domaine and replanting Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine produced became one of the most elegant ones in California.

In 1964, the property increased in size once again with the purchase of a vineyard at a lower altitude dating from the 19th century. With this new land, Ridge Vineyards could begin to grow Zinfandel. In 1968, the domaine was able to produce 3,000 cases a year. The following year, Paul Draper, an academic who had acquired knowledge and expertise in a Chilean vineyard, joined the venture. He left an indelible mark on the management of the domaine as he believed very strongly in allowing nature to be free. This pioneer of organic farming worked hard to create balanced wines and to lower the alcoholic content. He also imported the French concept of “terroir” by starting to produce from a single grape variety.

200-litre American Oak barrels from Ridge Vineyards.

200-litre American Oak barrels from Ridge Vineyards.

The wines

Due to its vast domaine, the property produces a very large quantity of different wines. Monte Bello is one of its flagship wines, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The Geyserville vintage is also a memorable and interesting Zinfandel wine.