Review of 2019: The Calm Before The Anti-Climax

by blog on November 9, 2019

Apparently, if I don’t complete this blog by some completely arbitrary date, I should find a convenient ditch and perish histrionically therein.

This has been a year where we’ve always had one eye cocked on an (un)certain event taking place. In one sense, in or out would never make a huge amount of difference to the way we work, partly because we’ve been inured to expect the unexpected for some years. Despite the much-mooted idea of business Brexit-proofing, there was no way we should overburden ourselves with excess stock and batten down the hatches all for the sake of an uncertain outcome. Shifts in currency seem to be de rigeur, and although we hedged with the best of them, the volatility of the markets made it difficult to follow other than a basic conservative strategy. It is almost tempting at times to simply abandon the wine business and just gamble on the currency markets, like all those speculators making money by short-selling the UK. As well as breeding financial uncertainty, Brexit has been a negative social phenomenon. I feel very bad about the insecurity experienced by EU citizens and those from other countries, who have to fill in forms and deal with the ghastly and unfit-for-purpose Home Office.

This has been a year where we’ve always had one eye cocked on an (un)certain event taking place. In one sense, in or out would never make a huge amount of difference to the way we work, partly because we’ve been inured to expect the unexpected for some years.

Our little sector of the economy has been steady in an unsteady way. What is most noticeable is the number of restaurants, both chains and high-profile operations, that have closed during the past year. There are various reasons behind this: rent and rate increases being the major ones, but costs have gone up in general. There feels like a recession, yet there are plenty of new openings to offset that – the churn it churneth every day.

Real Wine Fair 2019 crowd

2019 was a Real Wine Fair year, and the first few months were spent preparing for the May event. As for the two days themselves, we were blessed by the best weather ever, a superb turnout of growers from twenty-one countries, visitors, trade and public from all over the world, and a record number of participants in the Real Wine Month promo throughout the UK and Ireland.

Alas, because the government in their infinite lack of wisdom, have decided to move the May bank holiday back by one week next year (coinciding with the 2020 Real Wine Fair), we have had to postpone the event until 2021. We’re sure there will be real wine themed tastings and cute little events throughout the year, to make up for the gaping hole in the schedule!

Autumn Trade Tasting 2019 (Photo by The Hellenic Centre)

Our autumn trade tasting – Drinking Outside the Box – was successful also, with the original format of presenting wines by style receiving favourable comments by the many attendees. 180 + exclusively organic and mainly natural wines were split into sixteen discrete categories, to mirror the way we think and feel about wine.

In terms of buying, we largely kept our powder dry and consolidated the portfolio. New estates welcomed into the fold were Valentina Passalacqua’s Calcarius, a project devoted to indigenous varieties grown on the hard limestone soils of northern Puglia, and Cataldo Calabretta and Nasciri, two small operations in Calabria, both organic, both making natural wines from autochthonous grapes such as Ansonica, Greco Nero, Calabrese (aka Nero d’Avola) and Gaglioppo. We continue to extend our Georgian selection, working now with nine growers and many different grape varieties and styles.

180 + exclusively organic and mainly natural wines were split into sixteen discrete categories, to mirror the way we think and feel about wine.

On the blog, as well as the usual in-depth Decants features, we wrote variously about “Our Humble Alternative to the Top 50 Vineyards in the World” (the antidote to a somewhat misconceived commercial award of the same name, humility apart): Making wine in a cathedral or palace is all very well. Yet there is more glory in wine in a single vineyard micro-organism than in a shiny glass-and-steel visitor centre”; wine epiphanies in “What Goes On When We Taste Wine”; “Decanting”: “Living wines can be subtle, playful, shy or stubborn; to coax the best from them you have to find the place where they are happiest. Not that science text books would ever allow for this kind of anthropomorphic representation of the process of decanting.” We enumerated various “Wine Controversies” and reflected about whether wines could be truly vegan in “What’s the Deal with Vegan Wines?”; explored physiological responses in “Amber Wines & ASMR”, gave some helpful pointers on “How to Organise a Successful Wine Fair”; spoke up for the less fashionable grapes in “Ugly Ducklings Into Swans”, and reheated an ole chestnut in “What is a Value for Money Wine?”.

On the domestic front, the Les Caves family grew and not just because two of the crew sprogged! We welcomed back Dario Poddana, who has returned to develop our export markets, and Bryanna Schneider, a familiar new face, as it were, formerly of Sokol Blosser Wines in Oregon, who will be repping like a good ‘un. Line Moullier, meanwhile, added South African buying duties to her daily routine, and Carlo Lupori grasped the Italian (buying) nettle with aplomb. There were changes and additions in the office too.

Tasting in the cellars of Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo

At the beginning of October, the reps en famille jetted off to the Sherry Triangle for a few days to meet our growers, to learn about soleras and criaderas, to sip and sup gallons of Manzanilla, and to devour more fried food than is good for any human being.

The History of an Unusual Wine Company in 10.5 Chapters is an acknowledgement of our quirky seat-of-the-pants journey from nowt to summat, peppered with riffs on more than a few favourite subjects.

“You should write a book”. If I had a penny for every time someone said that to me, I would have twenty-three pence exactly. Yes, dear reader, I finally got that book out of my system. I had written most of it the previous year in order to commemorate thirty years of Les Caves de Pyrène’s existence as well as ten years of Terroirs pumpin’ out the terrine and rillettes with the cloudy booze. When I look back, it still seems amazing to me how we have grown from almost zip, and, without assets or investment, have transformed into a company that does so many things and is known throughout the natty wine world. And other wine worlds. Yet, still we are small, friendly and familial. The people make the wine company – all those who sail and have sailed in the good ship, Les Caves, the growers and their wonderful wines, and the loyalty of our customers. The History of an Unusual Wine Company in 10.5 Chapters is an acknowledgement of our quirky seat-of-the-pants journey from nowt to summat, peppered with riffs on more than a few favourite subjects. A second slender book is now out, soon to be available to buy from the Les Caves shop web site, this work being more of a frivolous Christmas stocking stuffer, and I am already working on a third oeuvre (sounds better than “a thing”).

And 2020? I’ve read almost all the pronouncements of the trade press, as they big up “new” regions and exalt grape varieties (the wheel it ever turns), detail with breathless excitement all the trends that there are and prognosticate about those there will ever be. I’ve read lots of column inches about big brands reinventing themselves, bold initiatives, huge wine expos getting huger; indeed, how all is for the best in the best of all possible wine worlds. As for Les Caves, we’ll play things by ear. In the meantime, we will refine and improve our wine list and ensure that our customers get the best service they can. And we will always try to do the right thing.

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Interested in finding more about our wine portfolio? Contact us directly:

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