Château Ksara launches wine using Merwah

11th May, 2018

Lebanese winery Château Ksara has announced the release of a new white wine that has been made with the local variety Merwah, the first time the grape has been used to make a single variety table wine.

A very old grape that is, according to Lebanese wine expert, Michael Karam, as close to it gets to a “national variety” in the little country, Merwah is widely eaten as a table grape and used for distillation as arak but has only ever been used in blends as a wine.

Château Ksara’s vineyards of Merwah are located in the north of the country and planted at an altitude of 1,500 metres.

Sixty years old and on pre-Phylloxera rootstock, the yields were a reported 37 hectolitres per hectare and the wine was given some lees ageing and has not been through any oak treatment.

Lebanon has what it considers two ‘native’ varieties, both white, Obeideh and Merwah. According to Wine Grapes, there may be a link between Merwah and Semillon although in what capacity is not quite clear and the link itself is very underexplored.

Both varieties are used in Château Musar’s white wine and Obeideh is used in the blend for Ksara’s own ‘Blanc de L’Observatoire’ but neither has been given much attention by the country’s winemakers before with international varieties such as Chardonnay given greater prominence and attention; in part due to the perception that they are rather rustic or ‘peasant’ varieties.

Speaking to the drinks business, George Sara, explained that the decision to make a wine using Merwah had been some 20 years in the making and had involved “a lot of trial and error.”

He continued that, despite some lingering doubts on the part of the French winemaker, they had “come round to it” in the end and decided to give it a go.

‘There was a shyness,” he said, “a lack of confidence and vision to take that step,” but now that it had been taken and satisfied with the results, the wine was now going to become an established part of the range.

Karam added: “In the last 10 years Lebanese whites have really come a long way. Moving to Merwah now is a sign of confidence in the ability of the winemakers and shows everything they’ve learnt in the last 20 years with a grape that’s been around for 1,000 years.”

With an alcohol content of 12.5% and with a period of one moth aged on fine lees and no oak treatment, the wine has a somewhat oily, textured feel on the palate but this is offset by a rather Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (see comment above) briskness and fruit profile.

Sara continued that the introduction of Merwah was also part of a broader rethink of how the winery’s entry-level range was being promoted.

Using other long established varieties in Lebanon such as Cinsault and Carignan, the wines are so ubiquitous in Lebanese restaurants that they were regarded even by the winery as just “everyday” sort of wines with more prestige and fanfare given to Ksara’s more premium output.

While there is no plan to try and spin wines such as L’Observatoire and Le Prieure (the red blend) as ‘premium’ wines all of a sudden, there has been a realisation that they perhaps represent a truer face of Lebanese winemaking tradition and heritage and broader wine culture that are worth encouraging.

Having maintained a strong link with UK chain Comptoir Libanais for some years, Ksara has also signed a new deal that will see its wines become the official house wine of the restaurants from this year.

The Merwah will be distributed in the UK by Hallgarten and Novum Wines and will be offered in both on- and off-trade accounts from next month.

Bill Murray mixes vodka cocktails to promote Slovenia spirit

11th May, 2018

While celebrities are known for attaching their names to everything from restaurant groups to tequila, you son’t always see them getting their hands dirty.


But that’s exactly what American national treasure Bill Murray did on Wednesday this week, when he was spotted mixing vodka cocktails at Xaviars restaurant in New York.

The Groundhog Day star was at the restaurant to promote Slovenia Vodka — a brand owned jointly by Murray, NY chef Peter X. Kelly, and fellow actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, reports Lohud.

The trio launched the vodka label in Spring 2017, despite Murray having never visited Slovenia until after their brand was founded.

Of course, Murray isn’t the only celebrity who has been promoting their spirits brand this week. Also on Wednesday, Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds appeared in newly-opened and highly-anticipated Mayfair bar Hide to promote Aviation Gin, a craft spirits label he bought a majority stake in earlier this year.

Meanwhile in the world of wine, sparkling brand Belaire has announced that 11 new bottles featuring its new contingent of brand ambassadors.

Belaire’s wine labels feature a number of US artists such as Diamond Platnumz, Nipsey Hussle, Fat Joe, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. The bottles will stand alongside the original series debuted in February, which features A-listers Rick Ross, Steve Aoki and DJ Khaled.

Suntory launches clear non-alcoholic ‘beer’ for office drinking

11th May, 2018

Japanese drinks giant Suntory is launching a clear, non-alcoholic ‘beer’ packaged in a plastic bottle which it hopes will be particularly popular with office workers.

As reported by Japan Today, the drink is due to hit the shelves in Japan on 19 June. The product is an extension of the company’s existing product All-Free – a non-alcoholic beer, zero calorie beer sold in cans and glass bottles.

With the launch of the new All-Free All-Time, Suntory has made the product appear more like a soft drink, making it more ‘office-friendly’ by packaging it in clear plastic and rendering the liquid colourless.

In its promotional video, the drink is being enjoyed by office workers at their desks while it’s also marketed as an after-sport thirst quencher.

The product claims to ‘taste like beer’ although it’s not yet clear whether, like All-Free, it actually smells like it. To what extent it can therefore be called ‘beer’ remains to be seen.

Suntory is also planning to conduct sampling of the new drink in convenience stores nationwide.

Gallo acquires Santa Barbara vineyards

11th May, 2018

US producer E&J Gallo has bought two substantial properties in Santa Barbara in the last two weeks, adding several hundred acres of vineyards to its portfolio.

Last week the group acquired the 436-acre Rancho Real Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. The property includes 211 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and the deal is thought to have been US$14.5 million.

Then, on Wednesday this week (9 May), it acquired the 542-acre Sierra Madre property and while the price was not disclosed, reports in the US from public records suggest the sale was worth around $30m.

This second property also included a further 151 acres of vineyard.

Roger Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of Gallo’s premium wine division, commented: “We are thrilled to add this impressive vineyard to our premium portfolio.

“This purchase supports Gallo’s commitment to continue making and selling luxury wines, while growing the finest grapes in Santa Barbara County.”

Watch: Robot opens and ‘drinks’ bottle of Champagne

11th May, 2018

A €2 million marine robot called Étaín, developed by the University of Limerick, took the unusual step of ‘christening itself’ before it was launched into the Limerick city docks last month.

MRE ROV Étaín opens champagne bottle from CRIS UL on Vimeo.

The Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), funded by The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), will be used to inspect, repair and maintain marine renewable energy facilities, according to its creators.

Designed to operate in “challenging wind, wave and tidal conditions” the robot has another string to its bow – it can open and “drink” a bottle of Champagne.

Speaking to Wine Spectator, research assistant Oriana Baric said: “We made several rehearsals to make sure the bottle [was] opened nicely for the official launch” although due to the lack of underwater vineyards, they would not be developing any further wine-specific robots.

The wine industry already has some experience with robots, with the likes of Ted, VineScout and drones being increasingly used in the vineyards. Last year, it was announced that Port producers Symington Family Estates was helping to trial a new robot designed to monitor vines in areas where human labour is in short supply.

Other robotic drinks inventions include a vine pruner, a beer pong player, a bartender, a beer-detecting ‘tongue’, and a six-foot half-tonne wine rack. 

Majestic warns of Provence rosé shortage

11th May, 2018

The combination of a bank holiday heatwave, poor French harvests and “higher-than-average” winter sales has put supplies of Provence rosé at risk of running out, according to UK retailer Majestic Wines.

The record temperatures at the beginning of May sparked a 114% increase in rosé sales over the bank holiday weekend at Majestic, which pointed to a “potential drought” of Provence rosé while at the same time encouraging consumers to consider other styles of rosé than the southern French favourite.

While it’s not uncommon to see a spike in rosé sales during spells of good weather, however the past winter also saw higher than normal sales of rosé wines, according to the retailer, “even during the ‘Beast from the East’ frozen spell”, while a record 110,000 bottles of rosé wines were sold in the run-up to Christmas and New Year.

“For many, rosé has meant one of two things – pale and summery, or dark and sickly,” explains Charles Cutterdige, rosé buyer at Majestic.

“But we’re seeing a huge change in the category now, as more styles come in. Malbec is a great example. It has popular appeal as a red wine but we’ve had increased interest in our pink styles too. It’s the same with other grapes, like Pinot Noir, as well as whole regions – like Lisbon”.

As reported by Vins de Provence, a period of frost at the end of April 2017 affected some of the vines across the region that were budding early, particularly those in the centre of the Var, however the region was left largely unscathed.

“From the end of May, the weather was much warmer and drier than usual which meant that the vines were able to continue their development,” it said, adding: “The flowering and fruit setting happened quickly, resulting in a bountiful setting and as such, the varying climate conditions, which included heat and rain, and occasionally frost and hail depending on the site, fortunately did not have a major impact on the quality of the grapes.”

While demand appears to be rising, production of Provence rosé wines also grew last year, bucking a trend seen across many other areas of Europe.

In 2017, production reached 1,165,389 hectolitres (the equivalent of 155 million bottles) for the Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varois appellations in Provence, the three appellations represented by the CIVP, compared with 1,317,900 hectolitres (the equivalent of 176 million bottles) in 2016.

However overall global production took a hit in 2017, falling to its lowest level in 60 years in 2017, according to confirmed figures released by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).

In its annual state of the market and international trade conference in Paris, the OIV confirmed that wine production had dropped to 250 million hectolitres in 2017, the lowest level since 1957, when volumes stood at 173.8m hectolitres, according to Reuters.

Compared with 2016, this represented an 8.6% decline, which was attributed to unfavourable climate conditions across the EU and included terrible frosts and a heatwave that hit France, Spain and Italy during the spring and summer.

Across Europe, production fell by 14.6%. As all three are among the world’s largest producers, any losses suffered have an immediate impact on overall statistics for worldwide wine production.

Francis Ford Coppola to sponsor LAFC

11th May, 2018

The Francis Ford Coppola winery has been named as the official sponsor of the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), the newest team in Major League Soccer.

The Californian winery will supply the team’s brand new, 22,000 seat, Banc of California Stadium with its ‘Sofia’ and ‘Diamond Collection’ wines as part of an initial three year deal.

The partnership will include pre-game ‘tailgate’ events in the LAFC Fan Zone where a Francis Ford Coppola branded bar will serve Diamond Collection wines in cans.

Francis Ford Coppola said: “There is nothing like a live event. In a world of pre-recorded experiences, there’s a certain thrill to being in a stadium watching a game. Los Angeles is a city dear to my heart and I’m glad we’re a part of the much anticipated opening of LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium.”

Jamie Guin, senior vice president of Corporate Partnerships for LAFC added: “We’re thrilled to partner with such a premier California winery. The Coppola brand is a perfect complement to Los Angeles’ vibrant food and wine scene and adds to the fan experience at our games.”

Cotswolds Distillery surpasses £2m crowdfunding target

11th May, 2018

Cotswolds Distillery has revealed that it has surpassed its initial £2 million crowdfunding target in a week, having received support from over 500 investors to build a new visitor centre.

Launching the campaign on Crowdcube last week, the distillery has, to-date, received £2,119,260 from 571 investors, and is now overfunding.

Last year, it launched a similar campaign during which it raised £1,185,120 from 21 investors. It also secured £1 million through the Angels’ Share campaign on Crowdbnk, and has also recently received a £145,000 grant from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to go towards the visitor centre build.

Founded in 2013, Cotswolds Distillery began production in 2014 and now produces a spirit range including gin and single malt whisky. The distillery has a one million bottle per annum production capacity with sales growing by 75% to £3.1 million in 2017.

It stated that the funds will be used to boost advertising, extend its sales and distribution network and build a new visitor centre.

Investors will receive a lifetime 10% discount through the Cotswolds Distillery online shop. The crowdfunding will close at the end of this month.

Commenting on both the grant and the crowdfunding campaign, Dan Szor, founder and CEO of the Cotswolds Distillery said: “We are thrilled with this marvellous vote of confidence from the UK Government, which will allow us to enhance our award-winning visitor offering.

“We’re looking forward to completing our visitors’ centre project and really creating a destination that brings people to the area, showcasing this stunning region that’s so dear to us.

“We were able to hit our initial £2,000,000 target yesterday (8 May) evening – only a week into our Crowdcube campaign. It was only fitting that the last £1,000 came from a past (and our best ever) summer intern who was so enamoured by his time with us that he’s decided to become an owner”.

Negociants to close as Yalumba joins Fells

11th May, 2018

Australian winery Yalumba has announced it is to be distributed in the UK by John E Fells from this summer while Negociants UK is to close.

Yalumba Organics RangeStarting from 11 June, Yalumba will join the Fells portfolio and owners the Hill Smith family will become shareholders in the business alongside the Symington and Torres families.

A crucial factor in this move is that Yalumba’s distribution business in the UK, Negociants, is to be wound down with a number of current employees joining Fells.

John E Fells’ managing director, Steve Moody, told the drinks business that Negociants would cease to trade from 10 June and that its managing director, Simon Thorpe, would join Fells as commercial director.

He added that “a number of other appointments” would also be made with members of the Negociants’ team transferring across to Fells in the sales, marketing, finance and admin departments, “as we structure up to take on this increased responsibility.”

He added: “This is a family of some standing and reputation and fits superbly into our offering.

“It adds importance to what Fells is and adds to Fell’s standing as a distributor of family-owned wine.”

Robert Hill Smith commented: “My family and the Yalumba team are excited by this venture with John E Fells and joining such respected wine people as the Symington and Torres families. Our Negociants team has done a wonderful job in the UK since 1990, but the time has come to align our aspirations with a new market approach.

“The Fells list is fabulous and our Yalumba and family estate folio sit comfortably within it. We hope to continue our success across all channels while making further impact on the HORECA channel and building deeper relationships with the independent trade.”

For Fells the inclusion of Yalumba has been described as helping consolidate its position in this market as “leading fine wine importers…of some of the world’s greatest family-owned wine producers.”

Paul Symington added: “When my family originally bought Fells in 1976, none of us envisaged that it would occupy the position that it does today in the UK wine trade. It is with great pride that we now welcome the Hill Smith family into Fells, and we look forward to working with Robert, his family and their wonderful wines in the years to come.”

Madame Bollinger Foundation marks 30-year partnership with IMW

11th May, 2018

Bollinger Champagne has marked a 30-year partnership between its charitable organisation the Madame Bollinger Foundation and the Institute of Masters of Wine, which was founded in 1988 by Christian Bizot.

Past winners of the Madame Bollinger Medal gathered in London to mark the anniversary

The foundation was established by Bizot to permanently recognise the contribution and values of his aunt, Madame Bollinger, who led the House from 1941 to 1973; choosing London as its base. That same year, the Foundation partnered with the Institute of Masters of Wine, and the inaugural Madame Bollinger Medal for the most outstanding performance during the practical tasting examination was presented to Michael Hill-Smith MW.

“When my father launched the “Madame Bollinger Foundation” at Vintners Hall in 1988, the purpose was to foster quality, education and ethics in all matters relating to wine at an international level,” said Etienne Bizot, chairman of The Madame Bollinger Foundation, son of Christian Bizot and great-nephew of Madame Bollinger.

“The Institute of Masters of Wine is without question the leading reference in this field, and 30 years on, the Madame Bollinger Foundation remains loyal to its support to the Institute. Within these last 30 years, the Institute has continued to open its doors and is now gathering Masters of Wine from all over the world. I am therefore very pleased to celebrate with our award winners this anniversary in honour of my Great-Aunt Madame Bollinger.”

This anniversary reunion brought together 17 from the total of 29 Masters of Wine who have been awarded the Madame Bollinger medal in the 30 years to attend the lunch at Mark’s Club in London.

Notable international winners attending included: Essi Avelan MW from Finland, Andreas Wickhoff MW from Austria and Toni Paterson MW, who made the 17,000km journey from Australia for the occasion.

“Everyone in this room would agree that the Madame Bollinger Medal is the medal you want to achieve, and without the support of Etienne and his family through the Madame Bollinger Foundation we would not be here,” said one winner, Mark Pardoe MW.

“The pride and camaraderie of the MW community has manifested in this room today, and we thank you for bringing us all together for this extraordinary celebration.”

For the occasion, the Bollinger family cellar provided magnums of the rare Bollinger La Cote aux Enfants 2009, a 100% Grand Cru pinot noir from Aÿ, of which only 150 bottles were produced, and Bollinger R.D. 1976 en magnum.