UK Vintage 2018 Report #3 – May

UK May18 ChardChardonnay

May in the UK has a Bank Holiday Weekend at both the start and the end of the month.  These two events, mere weeks apart, couldn’t have been more different to each other in terms of the weather conditions.

The first managed to continue the glorious early run of uninterrupted sunshine and warm temperatures that we’ve seen, whereas the latter (which has just occurred as I write) was just a touch cooler but several degrees less sunny.  There’s been mist, rain, and several prolonged thunder storms across much of the country.

To be fair, the general month of May has seen untraditionally high temperatures (generally 18-23°C) carry throughout the month in long uninterrupted periods.  It’s amazing to see the advances on the vines versus last month now that they have been exposed to a good few weeks of sunshine.

UK May18 OrtegaOrtega

Well on track despite the late April start, growth has accelerated, changing mere shoots in to fully formed trailing vines requiring early trellising, and buds have begun their transformation to grape clusters.  As per every other year, my Chardonnay and Ortega vines have bumpy leaves left from mites, whilst the MVN3 manages to escape.  As it is only a cosmetic malady it’s not too much of an issue.

UK May18 MVN3MVN3

Despite the current mist and dampness, the good news is that we are extremely far away from the May conditions of last year which saw the early development of the vines destroyed by late frosts.

The current projections for June’s weather are positive, with the sunny and warm days set to return.

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Aldi Wine Club: Where Art Thou?

Regular readers may already be aware of the Aldi Wine Club, a 3 month long assignment tasting 6 wines exclusive to their range, and then writing up your thoughts to the wider Aldi community to help guide shoppers in the right direction with their purchases.

AWC Logo

Though I’ve participated in my fair share of panels, I ensure I step back from time to time to allow others a turn at playing wine somm.  I do, however, regularly keep an eye on their website to see how things are progressing.

Over the last few months this has been limited to the continued viewing of a holding page detailing that the hunt is on for the 18th panel, a search that allegedly commenced last December.

AWC June18

Clearly something has stalled, and knowing that the club is pretty unique amongst the supermarkets wine offerings, its closure would be a sad loss for UK wine drinkers.

It would be doubly sad too as it came along at just about the right time to replace the now defunct Tesco Wine Community.  In the case of Tesco, any non-core activities were set aside to repair the big holes in their balance sheet, and the musings of wine lovers were probably far down the list of essentials.

With austerity and shrinking sales still affecting everyone on the high street, I wondered how far down the Wine Club was on Aldi’s balance sheet.  I decided to find out.

The club was administered for Aldi by PR firm Clarion Communications.  Seeing that they had won ‘PR Company of the Year’ at this week’s Drinks Business awards, and are clearly still active in the wines and spirits sector, prompted me to get in touch to see what the current state of play is.

I had several contacts listed for them, each of which pinged me back saying that the email accounts no longer existed – not a good start.  I also reached out to Aldi directly who, in spite of my specific query, responded with the vague offer of passing my feedback to the ‘relevant teams’, and an equally unhelpful redirection to the holding page I had referred to in my enquiry.

A little despondent that clearly Aldi had no real firm grip on the status or plans, I was pleased to be able to connect with Becky at Clarion who was able to shed some more light on the situation.  She confirmed that the club hadn’t closed or been forgotten, just merely dropped down the immediate projects schedule due to some high priority work.

I’m glad to see that the door hasn’t been completely closed on the exercise.  Becky also confirmed that when they recommence the offering she’ll be in touch, so stay tuned if you’ve been wondering where the club had gone or want to get involved in the future.

I hope that in the intervening time between the last panel and the next there have been new ideas kicked around to energise the club and make it more inclusive, more popular, and higher up the Clarion/Aldi priority lists!

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Prosecco: Brand On The Run?

Prosecco popcorn

Whether it’s a drink that makes you thirst or curse, there’s no denying that the biggest sparkling wine success of the last ten years has been the surge in popularity for Prosecco.  Majestic recently stated that it was selling ten times more bottles than the well-established Champagne brands.

This wasn’t always the case though and as recently as ten years ago Spain must have felt fairly safe in the knowledge that they had the ‘sparkling-alternative-to-Champagne’ market sewn up with Cava.  Made in a similar style to Champagne, but without the prestige of Moét-level brand recognition, they were able to produce fairly similar results at significantly lower prices.

Whilst also a sparkling wine, outside of artisan producers emulating the Champagne style, Prosecco isn’t made in the same way.  The bubbles are added by a carbonation process similar to soft drinks, worlds away from the traditional labour intensive Champagne processes.  Instead of fermentation (sugars turning to alcohol) within the bottle itself, Prosecco is made in large tanks and siphoned off to each bottle individually.

Without time resting on its yeasty deposits, the creamy richness found in Champagne is lost, but gives Prosecco its youthful and vibrant quality, expressly intended for immediate drinking.  This unfussy immediacy, as well as the reduced pricing through simpler production, has proved incredibly popular with the ever cost-conscious buying public.

This is all good for the here-and-now but to ensure a successful future Prosecco needs to side-step the stigma of simply being a cheaper alternative.  Adopted by many a girls night out, will the effortless effervescence shortly become a victim of its own success?

For all its perceived snobbery, Champagne has actually done a massive amount to protect its brand and, outside of Champagne truffles and the Champagne named sub-regions of Cognac, you literally can’t label anything as ‘Champagne’ unless it comes from the region.

This makes perfect sense as, when you buy Champagne, you’re buying in to the limited prestige.  Prosecco brand preservation seems to have been somewhat side-lined and there is arguably little ongoing value with it being associated with such retail oddments as popcorn, teabags, crisps or nail varnish.  Innocently browsing in a bookshop this very week I spotted a Prosecco cookbook – 100 ways to cook with Prosecco.  This is a serious brand devaluation.

prosecco cookbook

Price-point is another major consideration.  Despite such obvious Brexit factors meaning that we import European goods at a higher price, and the fact that the more popular a brand is the more a producer will charge for it, late spring frosts and an inconsistent summer means that recent crops were severely curtailed or variably-ripened.

Global wine production in 2017 slumped to a 56 year low and there is simply less to go around.  Experts estimate that for affected regions, including Prosecco, prices could rise by as much as 30%.

There’s no denying that Prosecco is still very popular but when a brand scales up so quickly there is almost always a quick deflation to follow.  Can Prosecco sustain such price rises, lack of availability, and over-exposure through tacky 3rd party products?  Is Prosecco now a brand on the run?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the May 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.