The thought of buying premium wines for me starts from with an exclusive postcode, in a stuffy old shop with the smell of cigar smoke, lined with cedar paneling with the best possible service from a wine professional extraordinaire who directs you with their own personal recommendations about what they like rather than what I do.
Well thats just my thoughts as a co-founder of Organic Wine Club, and putting pen to paper and reading this back, seems that my mind may be closed off to the idea of buying a premium bottle of wine. I think that I have a sightly different approach than most in this industry, but it's also worth noting that I have visited and purchased from two London wine boutiques within esteemed central London postcodes. So I am relatively objectionable.
But what is it that gives these bottles the recognition of this title? Is it the brand name printed on the exterior label, the grape variety and its availability, or is it just another tag to try and justification of its price?
For many of us, myself included, the thought of paying over £10 for bottle of easy-drinking wine for everyday occasions, or Wednesday wine as its affectionately known in my store, is just plain stupid. These wines are really not for savouring over a Michelin star 10 course dinner and its probably not going to kept in the back of the cupboard under the stairs for your child's graduation or first born child. It's a wine that you personally really enjoy with your quickly prepared dinner before getting stuck into work emails or household chores after a pretty standard day at work.
So with being objectionable, lets consider these points;
The Brand Name
We all know that value is added in many respects with a brand name on the label, but that really doesn't affect the taste or quality of the wine. I have tried and bought wines of this nature, but I would suggest that as if you added the label to the wine, or any wine for that matter, it probably wouldn't taste very nice!
But the name and the logo does add something, it offers an element of trust that cannot be offered in the same way by many of the artisanal organic winemakers we work with. Some of these names offer age old traditions with top levels of quality and prestige. There is also the feel good factor that these labels can bring. I know that I understand this completely, just opening the doors of both double wardrobes and you will see nothing more than label after label.
Having that trust and an element of pride in the name and the brand is all fine and well. However does that mean that they are automatically allowed to add a surplus, of any amount at their discretion, simply because they deem that worthy of this? How do you quantify this level of trust? Like many small business owners, I understand the difficulties of trying to offer the best possible price for a product, but I still have rent to pay and a dog to feed.
Consider this, ultimately there are a huge number of factors that can cause ill effects to the wine that you might end up consuming, where many of them are completely outside anyones control. I suppose when that happens you just need to hope they have a good customer service department, especially as you probably won't be able to send back an open bottle of wine.
With excitement reaching fever pitch levels this summer, lets consider the outstanding contributions of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur or Gareth Southgate's impact on the current England national football team. Winemakers have knowledge, wisdom and skills that are just as important, if not more so, dependant on your level of love of the nations favourite sport.
Considering the variances in climates, soil types, and freak weather anomalies, the vines have to learnt how to adapt over time. Many of the worlds most esteemed winemakers have spent time in vineyards across the world in some of the most revered regions. From this they have learnt from the greatest wine universities in the world, with some of the greatest brains sharing and passing down their knowledge to the next generation.
Like the world of football, there are notable instances when they just didn't get it right. Migration of people, clashes of personality and differences of opinion however have offered some of the greatest fails across the world. Despite this, we should encourage and accept these, as within the same global arena we have been happy to accept the greatest successes.
The grape and the winemaking process
This may seem mean, but it's true. When the sun shines and your skin absorbs the vitamin D, regardless of your skin colour, everyone will get the same health benefits, and through time human bodies have developed different skin types to cope with the extremes of heat. So what does that mean for grapes? Yes they are all different and unique, they are different colours and have different skin types, but they are all used to make wine when its possible.
So lets talk about water, well I would but I cannot think of another analogy!
Hopefully you understand where I'm going with this. The sunshine and the water that's needed will be the same generally, with a few variations depending on the grape vine and the location. These vines however are living things and regardless of this they will do whatever is needed to adapt and to survive. You obviously can buy branded water, but I cant see winemakers stretching their budgets so that they can say they watered the vineyards with Evian or Highland Spring!
So for the grape that shouldn't really need much, with sunshine and water and some love from a knowledgeable expert.
The verdict and our stance
Overall there is something within premium and top level wines that does add value. But our culture of celebrity, wealth and the over-riding desire to keep up with the Jones' is potentially stopping us experiencing and enjoying the thing that we truly love and and genuinely enjoy. In terms of wine, you should be able to proudly state what you love to drink, if thats a wine from a supermarket at £5, from an independent wine retailer at £15 or something special at £50+ then you most certainly should because your life is about you.
But when you consider the points above from branding, climates and the winemaker, how do you protect yourself and your business against all these elements? Well the straight forward answer is sulphites, flavourings and additives. Many brands that want to offer the top quality wines at an affordable price need to ensure that, regardless of the crop harvested, you always get they same great taste and flavour that you love and enjoy every week and every year that you open the familiar bottle.
While I know and accept that many brands are working to try and reduce the level of chemicals that they add to their wines to help with the brand marketing strategy and continue to safeguard the thousands of jobs that they offer and help to maintain through third party association across the world. But how do you justify adding these chemicals to renowned and still maintain the element of trust when the contents of the wine itself is clearly not stated on the label. There is also that as an employer surely you should be able to trust your own decisions on the competency of your chosen winemaker.
At Organic Wine Club, we believe in a paying a fair price for a fair wine deemed that by the winemaker. The rarity of the grape, the ingenuity of the winemaker and the costs and overheads marrying their need for profit to simply enjoy life are all factors that we consider when judging a wine for a place on our shelves.