Covid-19 in Europe’s top wine producing countries

19th November, 2020

France is the largest coronavirus hotspot of Europe’s biggest wine producing nations, with over 1.8m active cases currently reported in the country.

It also has the second-highest Covud death rate of Europe’s leading wine countries, with over 45,000 people having died from the virus in France.

Europe’s number three winemaking nation – Spain – has the second highest number of active Covid cases at the moment, at over 1.5 million, with over 41,000 reported deaths.

While Italy – Europe’s top winemaking country by volume – was one of the first countries to be seriously hit by Covid, resulting in over 45,000 deaths, the number of active cases in the country is significantly below the France and Spain at just over 700,000.

Elsewhere in Europe, the number of active cases in Germany is just over 275,000, while nearly 13,000 people have died from the virus there.

Portugal has just over 80,000 active cases, while Romania and Hungary have 110,000 and 115,000 active cases respectively. Austria and Greece have been relatively spared from the virus, with Austria reporting less than 2,000 deaths and Greece experiencing just over 1,100 deaths.

Covid-19 in the world’s top wine producing countries

19th November, 2020

The US leads the way in terms of having the highest number of coronavirus cases among the world’s top 10 wine producing countries, with over 4m active cases.

Unsurprisingly given the number of active cases, the United States also has the highest number of reported coronavirus deaths of the world’s top wine producing nations, at over 252,000.

France is the second biggest Covid hotspot in the wine world at the moment, with over 1.8m active cases in the country. It also has one of the highest death rates, with over 45,000 people having died from the virus in France.

The world’s number three winemaking nation – Spain – also has the third highest number of active Covid cases at the moment, at over 1.5 million.

While Italy – the world’s top winemaking country by volume – was one of the first countries to be seriously hit by Covid, resulting in over 45,000 deaths, the number of active cases in the country is significantly below the US, France and Spain at just over 700,000.

China, which is currently the 10th largest wine producer in the world by volume, only has 353 active coronavirus cases at the moment and just over 4,000 registered deaths since the virus first hit.

While Chile has suffered nearly 15,000 deaths from the virus, there are under 10,000 active Covid cases reported in the South American country.

Pommery begins organic conversion

19th November, 2020

The Vranken-Pommery group will start converting its vineyards in Champagne to organic viticulture from the 2020 harvest.

Vranken-Pommery’s vineyards in Carmargue are in the process of being converted to organics

The conversion involves 175 hectares of the 285 hectares managed by the group in Champagne and will take a minimum of three years.

As part of the conversion, the Champagne house will use no synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides on its vines. The decision to make the conversion to organics follows years of organic trials and experiments.

“Organic viticulture comes naturally within the scope of our group philosophy, because currently almost 2,000 hectares of vines in Camargue and in Provence, which belong to us, are certified as organic or are in conversion.

“All our vineyards in Camargue and in Provence will be certified as organic at the 2023 harvest,” said Vranken-Pommery’s president, Paul-François Vranken.

The group’s Douro estate, Quinta do Grifo, has just begun its conversion to organics across its 130 hectares of vineyards in the Douro Superior.

Julien Lonneux, Vranken-Pommery’s UK CEO, said: “We are so proud of working for a group at the forefront of sustainable development – 2020 has been a difficult year for Champagne, but moments like this give us all excitement and hope for the future”.

Vranken-Pommery has already been awarded certification for ‘High Environmental Value’ and ‘Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne’.

The group has been pursuing a green agenda for over 20 years, and was among the first in Champagne to achieve ISO 14001 certification.

Bud Light launches games console that can chill beer

19th November, 2020

AB InBev-owned beer brand Bud Light has launched a games console called BL6 which doubles up as a beer cooler.

The new gadget can chill six cans of beer and comes with 16 gigabytes of memory. The console is also pre-loaded with six games including Tekken 7, SoulCalibur VI, RBI Baseball 20 and Broforce, as well as BL6 exclusive games Flashlight: Freeze Tag and Six Puck.

Billed as “the world’s first ever self-cooling six pack that also plays video games,” the BL6 also boasts a built-in projector so that games can be played on the go. It includes two controllers which can be stored in the device.

Competing with the likes of the recently-released PS5 and Xbox Series X, the BL6 is currently only available at auction. The lead bid at the time of writing was US$696,970.

All proceeds from the sale will be matched by Bud Light and donated to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation. The money will help fund the Change is on the Menu programme, a scheme which aims to support hospitality workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The online auction on will end on 20 November.

It follows the launch of Miller Lite’s Cantenna, a beer can with a built-in digital antenna designed to stream American football games, and Cantroller, a beer can which doubled up as a 10-button game console controller.

Private cellar of Joseph Phelps to be sold

19th November, 2020

The private cellar of the late Joseph Phelps, spanning over 5,000 bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Champagne and Napa wines, is to be auctioned off by Hart Davis Hart this December.

The collection will be offered at HDH’s sale on 18-19 December. An active collector for decades, he valued provenance, condition and storage highly and all of the wines were either kept at his winery or in a temperature-controlled cellar at his home.

He even kept original receipts and note cards of purchases over the course of 50 years which the family were able to hand over to the auctioneer.

Phelps had a career in the construction industry before he cam to wine, founding his eponymous estate outside St Helena in Napa Valley in 1973.

Inspired by his interest in classic European wines, he bottled varietal Cabernet-Sauvignon and Syrah in 1974, his first vintage, the former being the first vintage of his flagship ‘Insignia’ label.

He also planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Riesling, Sémillon, Gewürztraminer and Scheurebe which he used for pudding wines.

The collection includes parcels of his own wine including an 18-bottle vertical of his ‘Insignia’ and a 12-bottle case of the 1976 (est. US$4,000-$6,000).

He also acquired wines from friends and neighbours in California and the ale includes the likes of Heitz Cellar’s 1974 Martha’s Vineyard (six btls est. $7,000-$10,000), Stag’s Leap 1973 ‘SLV’ (10 btls est. $9,500-$14,000) and Ridge Vineyard’s 1971 “Eisele’ Cabernet Sauvignon (two btls est. $4,000-$6,000).

In addition he was a keen collector of European domains and highlights include a bottle of 1865 Château Lafite ($11,000-$17,000), two bottles of 1934 Haut-Brion, a bottle of 1918 La Mission Haut-Brion, bottles of Henri Jayer’s 1980 Richebourg and Vosne-Romanée ‘Beaux Monts’ and 1966 Romanée-Conto from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 10 bottles of Marius Gentaz-Dervieux’s 1977 Côte Rôtie, Côte Brune, a bottle of 1961 Salon, a bottle of Bollinger’s 1975 Vieilles Vignes Françaises and six bottles of 1898 Sercial Solera Madeira from Henriques & Henriques.

Michael Davis, vice chairman of HDH, commented: “We’re very excited to represent this special collection. Joe was a legend in the wine world, and he will always have a place in the history of Napa Valley wines. His very personal collection underscores his formidable level of expertise and it’s such an honour to offer these treasures to collectors around the world.”

Joseph’s daughter, Lynn Phelps Finch, added: “Dad took such pleasure in sharing bottles of wine from his cellar with friends and family. We are pleased to share his cellar with others and continue the legacy.”

Welsh vineyard up for sale for £825,000

19th November, 2020

Cwm Deri Vineyard in Pembrokeshire, which produces around 30,000 bottles of wine a year, has been put on the market for a guide price of £825,000.

Image: Country Living Group

Listed through the Country Living Group, the sale also includes a total of 25 acres of land, the winery and bottling room, a detached three-bedroom bungalow, restaurant and coffee shop and holiday let outbuildings and caravans.

The vineyard itself is planted with 3,000 vines with varieties including Madeleine Angevine, Seyval Blanc, Rondo and Triomph d’Alsace.

Its wines are made on site in a warehouse which houses both the winery and bottling room. Cwm Deri’s cellar door operation, which includes a 60-cover restaurant and coffee shop with an outdoor terrace area, is also included in the deal.

Image: Country Living Group

Planted in late 1990 and early 1991, the vineyard has views over the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Its current owners have managed the business since 2004.

As well as a vineyard, Cwm Deri also boasts a greenhouse, two polytunnels and orchard and vegetable plots. Its products, which include wines, liqueurs and meads, are sold at its shop and at markets and food festivals throughout Wales.

The agents state that the current commercial and personal fixtures and fittings, as well as the stock, intellectual property, websites and trading name is not included in the sale price, however the owners would welcome separate offers from buyers willing to take the business on as a going concern.

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Rhône fine wine: Slow and steady wins the race?

18th November, 2020

The Rhône Valley’s status as a producer of fine wines has never really been in doubt but for decades its performance relative to peer regions in France and beyond has been poor. With signs that it’s gaining traction in the secondary market, however, is the Rhône’s steady perseverance starting to pay off?

As Liv-ex laid out in a recent report, the Rhône is a “paradox in the fine wine world” and a region that has remained in the shadows, “despite having many of the attributes that should make it shine on the secondary market – quality, diversity, history and stories”.

Its vintage quality is high and consistent, its top wines have excellent critical scores (Robert Parker was much more of a Rhône than a Bordeaux one), the wines for the most part are accessibly priced and while it has complex soils and terroirs it’s a much easier proposition than, say Burgundy, to get to grips with.

That said, consistency can dull the edge of urgency, if every vintage is good, there’s no need to rush to buy one over another. Parker’s preference for more robust iterations meanwhile had its critics at the time and has proved a less than enduring legacy with winemakers now seeking fresher, less alcoholic expressions in their cuvées.

But with fresher styles emerging, scores remaining high and buyers going beyond claret and Vosne for their cellars there’s been a steady uptick in activity for the Rhône on the secondary market.

Liv-ex notes that there’s been a 660% increase in the number of wines traded over the past decade as buyers seek more than just the labels Parker favoured.

Activity is split pretty equally between wines from the northern slopes and southern plains and both indices are up 23% over the past decade, but the wines from the former, on average, cost twice as much as the latter.

Although its performance has been slow and certainly less flashy than other liv-ex indices it’s not to say that there hasn’t been progress for the Rhône.

The Rhône 100 index is up 95% since it was created in 2003. This certainly pales against the 210% performance of the Fine Wine 100 over the same period, chockfull of first growths and grand cru Burgundy and the like but prices have also been far less volatile for the Rhône which has suffered far fewer high peaks and troughs during times of global turbulence.

Furthermore, over the past three years the tempo of the Rhône’s rise has been much faster and it has performed better than several other indices in this time, including the Bordeaux 500.

On the year-to-date it is up 2.8%, the best-performing index behind only the Italy 100 (4.7%) and Champagne 50 (6.8%) which have both had record years.

Part of the appeal is the accessibility of the region price-wise. As Liv-ex pointed out, the region provides one of the cheapest entry points into fine wine.

Not only are the wines of the southern Rhône less keen than those of the north but two cases of the very top-priced wines cost the same as one case of a Super Tuscan, while five cost the same as just one dozen of something like Penfolds Grange or a Bordeaux first growth.

even the northern Rhône is good value against peer and near-to-peer fine wines, the finest Syrah is as much as 7.5 times cheaper than a leading Burgundian cuvée.

The US has long had a taste for Rhône wines – likewise for Italy – and buyers there continue to make up 55% of sales in 2020, while the UK accounts for just 30%.

It has not hurt the Rhône either that any wines above 14% alcohol – looking at you Châteauneuf-du-Pape – do not qualify for the 25% US tariff, while in the north the likes of Chave, Guigal, Allemand, Clape and Voge have built up strong followings among US buyers, spurred on (no doubt) by dedicated critics such as Jeb Dunnuck.

Liv-ex concluded by saying that: “It’s certainly a stretch to suggest that the Rhone is heading for a Burgundy-style market surge any time soon, but there are indications that eyes are turning to the region as customers look for value beyond other classic regions. Though its market share remains small, both the number of transactions and the number of wines trading have increased significantly over the past decade, a trend that has gathered pace in recent years.”

Plugging away quietly for decades, the signs are that the Rhône’s innate qualities are starting to work in its favour.

What challenges face Burgundy in the secondary market?

18th November, 2020

With prices continuing to rise but price growth decelerating, volumes stabilising after a good run of harvests, has Burgundy lost some of the protection previously afforded by record demand and minuscule production?

Wine Lister recently published an in-depth report on the famous French region recently, in which it pointed to both the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s output in the current marketplace.

As it said in the report: “With more stock availability left over from 2017 than the previous run of low-volume vintages, and 2018 – a vintage of quality and quantity – released into a pandemic-ridden market, Burgundy is no longer totally immune to the wider fine wine market context.

“Shifts in consumer demand align somewhat with affordability, as prices of mid-tier categories edge towards inaccessibility, even if the very elite sector of the market remains strong. Will 2019 be the first vintage to bring Burgundy’s price bubble back to earth, or will its wines continue into the stratosphere?”

The findings largely chime with other analysis from fine wine observers pointing to on-going (though perhaps not as surging) demand for Burgundy, which is fuelling a rise in prices across a broader spectrum of the region’s wines even as the leading names see price appreciation slow or even step back a little as they top out at record levels.

More Burgundy wines than ever before now cost £3,000+ as Wine Lister noted and while it remains one of the best price-performing categories the platform tracks, it has now been overtaken by Piedmont.

Interestingly, Wine Lister has noted that Burgundy has suffered the biggest fall in popularity among the five most-searched-for regions over the past two years with a major drop off since a peak in summer 2019; and it now languishes behind the Italian regions of Tuscany and Piedmont, has been steeply overtaken by Bordeaux and looks set to be surpassed by California too.

It asked its 53 trade members around the world for their view of the big challenges facing Burgundy and while many remain optimistic overall regarding the region’s continued success and popularity, there are question marks over certain key areas.

First and foremost of these is, as one might expect, price, which half of the respondents put at the top with fears of both pricing ‘bubbles’ and the increasing price gaps between categories with many seeing speculation at the top end as a “plague”.

Climate change was also high on the list of concerns, with one UK merchant quoted as saying that, “with harvest dates earlier and earlier each year, alcohol levels rising, issues with frost, with sunburn, etc., climate change is undeniably making things less predictable for growers and winemakers”.

Others noted an increase in vintage variation and fluctuations in volumes of course have a knock on effect on supply and increased pricing pressure.

And the third biggest concern was accessibility, with another UK respondent noting that allocations for merchants and clients, “doesn’t allow new customers access to certain wines, and so younger/newer customers are not exposed to them,” which of course was the argument against certain pricing issues in Bordeaux not so long ago.

One respondent even went to far as to say that the current pricing trend had, erased a whole generation of potential Burgundy buyers – there are 10-15 years of people who are now able to afford very good Burgundy, but weren’t able to when they were young so they never got the bug”.

Is Burgundy in danger of being stuck with a dying audience?

Other worries covered tariffs between the UK, US and Europe, competition from other regions and styles (not just other Pinot and Chardonnay), the impact of external investment as land prices in the region rocket, speculation as previously mentioned and premature oxidation is still a concern to some.

Nonetheless, the respondents also pointed to the Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise, Saint-Aubin, Chablis, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits and other AOC as areas where there is still opportunity for Burgundy to attract new buyers, especially as winemaking in some spots continues to improve.

Ultimately, however, the growing gap between the very upper echelons of Burgundy and ‘the rest’ no matter how good they might be or are becoming was almost certain to be price cuts at the mid-tier and even the possibility of over-supply at the entry-level.

With the launch of the 2019 vintage rapidly approaching, it will be interesting to see how Burgundy steers its course out of the rocky waters of 2020 and deep unknowns of 2021.

Pubs in parts of Scotland to close from Friday

18th November, 2020

Restaurants, pubs and bars in 11 council areas in Scotland, including Glasgow, will be required to close from 6pm on Friday, the Scottish government has announced.

Areas in western and central Scotland have been placed in the country’s highest Covid alert level in an effort to suppress the virus in the lead up to Christmas.

From 6pm this Friday (20 November) Glasgow, Stirling, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian will be placed into level four.

Hospitality outlets must close, but can still offer takeaways, and all non-essential retail operations must close. The new restrictions affect over two million people.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also implemented a ban on people, who live in an area in level three or four, travelling outside their locality, except for essential purposes such as work and care giving.

Sturgeon explained that the decision had been made in order to relieve pressure on health services.

The First Minister said: “In the seven days up to Friday, Scotland as a whole had just over 140 new cases of Covid per 100,000 people. All of the areas moving to Level 4 were above that level. We simply do not have the assurance we need that hospital and ICU services will be able to cope as we go deeper into winter.”

The 11 council areas will be placed in level four for three weeks after which their alert level will be assessed again.

Sturgeon added: “I know people are frustrated that other restrictions have remained in place longer than planned but level four is intended to be short and sharp. And in this situation, it is specifically intended to have an impact in advance of Christmas and the most winter challenging period.”

Reacting to the news, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said the move effectively signals permanent closure for many licensed hospitality premises.

In a survey of 600 pubs and bars, the SLTA estates that as many as 50,000 jobs could be lost, with as many as two-thirds of the businesses it represents going under in the weeks ahead.

SLTA managing director, Colin Wilkinson, called it the “worst possible news”. He highlighted that even in levels two and three, operators have decided to close down “as it is simply unviable to operate with the current restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the operating times that are currently in place.”

“There has been no meaningful engagement with our industry and there has been no evidence to prove that the virus is being spread within the licensed hospitality sector,” he said. “We reiterate that we support the goal of suppressing the virus, but we also reiterate that we are a sector in crisis with hundreds of businesses facing permanent closure and thousands of jobs hanging in the balance.”

J.D. Wetherspoon has already closed three-quarters of its Scottish pub estate, sites that will remain closed until measures are eased. The Gleneagles Hotel in the Perth and Kinross council area has also announced that it will remain closed for 11 weeks after the region was moved into level three.

Baga Chipz launches virtual celebrity cocktail workshop

18th November, 2020

Ru Paul’s Drag Race finalist Baga Chipz has teamed up with DJ Limbrey distillery to launch a series of videos promoting a range of teabags that can be used to create cocktails at home.

Ms Chipz, known as one of the strongest contestants in the first ever UK edition of Ru Paul’s Drag Race last year, stars in a series of videos promoting the new product – called DJs Cocktail Infusers with Nancy Sorrell, Paralympic gold medallist Claire Cashmore MBE, fitness expert Shaun Stafford and US TV star Paul Wharton, with a special appearance from Vic Reeves.

The teabags in the range to help people create up to six cocktails at home; Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmopolitan, Margarita, Peach Mojito, Strawberry Daiquiri and Sangria. The infusers are meant to be steeped in alcohol such as vodka for four minutes before a mixer and garnish is added.

The launch comes on the back of rising demand for cocktail-making essentials while bars and restaurants have been forced to close during lockdown. In the 12-week period to 23 May, sales of cocktail bitters in the US retail and e-commerce sector rose 83.6%, according to Nielsen figures. Meanwhile sales of cordials, which also includes lower-ABV aperitivos and liqueurs such as triple sec, have risen by 50% compared to last year.

DJ’s Cocktail Infusers come in a multipack of 12 biodegradable infusers, and also include a bell jigger, reusable straws and a stirring spoon. They are available to purchase from Amazon with an RRP of £19.99.

DJ Limbrey, founded in 2014, produces a selection of premium-positioned spirits such as potato vodka and London Gin which typically appear on the bar at high profile events like London Fashion Week. With gatherings unable to take place for the foreseeable future, the company is focusing its efforts on recruiting consumers who are looking to recreating the on-trade experience at home.