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Wine and globalization

Just over a year ago I spent a very happy few days in northern California, spending one very long and pleasant day in the state’s Napa Valley wine region. The region boasts some of the best wines in the world, including the now-famous wineries of Robert Mondavi. Mondavi’s wines caused a global sensation in the trade when, during a “blind tasting” in the early 1970s, wine critics rated his produce a notch above the competition from more exalted premises in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The horror!

This article very nicely draws out how the challenge of New World wines from California, Chile, Argentina (a magnificent producer of wine), South Africa, New Zealand and Australia has led to a fairly grumpy response from the traditional centres. This is perhaps understandable. The French produced some of the finest wines of all time, with only a bit of competition from the flowery Hocks and Moselles from Germany and the likeable Riojas in Spain and a few good ones from Italy. About 20-plus years ago, you could walk into a supermarket and choose from only a relatively limited range of wines, much of it fairly basic plonk. Globalisation has put some of the world’s most far-flung wine producers into the reach of Joe Public.

All we need now is a similar global “race to the top” in the production of effective hangover cures.

41 comments to Wine and globalization

  • Michael Farris

    Better than “Bergundy”???? The horror, indeed. But I bet it wasn’t better than Champane or Murloe.

  • Midwesterner

    Michael, it was a typo all right. He meant to say “Beergundy”. It’s a new EU hybridization of German and French production capabilities.

  • HJHJ


    I find your post and the article to which you refer somewhat misleading. We have to differentiate here between top level wines and the vast bulk of ‘everyday’ wine production (some of which is very good – I’m not denigrating it). Globalisation has, if anything, cemented demand for top wines from classic regions. Sure, new areas such as the Napa have joined this category with some fabulous wines, but top producers in the classic regions have always made individual wines in modest quantities with great individual care – and world demand for these has soared and hence prices have risen. [incidentally, less celebrated wines such as Torres Grand Coronas Black Label (Mas de Plana) have also trounced Bordeaux in the past].

    The real influence of the new world and globalisation has been in producing more everyday wines of consistent quality, simply labelled, which has put many European producers who have been slow to adopt new practices, vineyard techniques, technology and promotional techniques under great pressure. On the other hand, some (too few) European producers have responded to the challenge and now produce a variety of wines from a greater variety of grape types, well suited to the ‘terroir’ that compete very well (and are often, unfortunately, overlooked due to the lack of simple brand/grape variety consumer recognition).

    The article to which you refer makes a number of questionable statements, such as “Put simply, Parker’s ratings determine global wine prices” and “the world tracks his palate with slavish consistency”. This really is rubbish. Parker certainly is very influential, especially in the US, but this ludicrously overstates the case. Quite apart from anything else, most of the global wine trade is of pretty everyday wines and supermarket buyers and well-known brand names have a much bigger influence than the likes of Parker, who is more interested in the upper levels of wines.

  • madne0

    “The French produced some of the finest wines of all time, with only a bit of competition from the flowery Hocks and Moselles from Germany and the likeable Riojas in Spain and a few good ones from Italy.”

    How could you forget about Portugal? Oh the horror! Indeed… 😉

  • Midwesterner

    I recall a story just a few years back about French/Italian/Spanish winemakers stuck with spectacular amounts of cheap wine they couldn’t sell. Globalization and the new competition had dried up the market for lousy wine.

    They wanted a law against good, inexpensive wine. Not their exact words but definitely their intent.

  • Euan Gray

    Isn’t it just that the unit cost of new world wine tends to be inherently lower because the European labels (especially the French) are much smaller scale operations, often small family businesses?


  • Midwesterner: didn’t you mean “the hybridization of the Belgian and French production capabilities”?:-)

  • Michael Farris

    Having generally bad taste, I enjoy the cheap dry red wines. I’ve noticed that Spanish and Italian cheap wine varies wildly in quality (from okay if you’re eating really spicy food to just about undrinkable). But I’m almost never disappointed by Bulgarian or Hungarian wines which are cheap and very drinkable. No snob value, true, but you can do a lot worse. I don’t know how available they are in Britain or the US.

  • Hank Scorpio

    Michael Farris, I see your bad taste, and raise you.

    I’ve never been able to stand wine. Absolutely despise the stuff. Also not a fan of snobbery and pretension in general, which is basically what I consider wine connoissourship to be all about.

    A bottle of bud and maybe a shot of bourbon for me thanks, I work for a living.

  • Chris H


    I find it hard to believe that unit costs for small producers are the issue in France, since I can buy dozens of good quality wines from small producers for two or three euros per litre. This is the kind of wine that would cost around £8 or £9 a bottle in the UK and is the wine that our middle class French friends tend to drink.

    From what I’ve seen, it’s the large scale production of cheap wines in France that is having problems. The wines that sell for around a euro per litre and turn up in Tesco’s for £4 or £5 a bottle. These wines don’t have the quality control or marketing to compete with their new world competitors.

  • Chris H


    “I’ve never been able to stand wine.”
    “I consider wine connoissourship [sic] to be all about”

    So you’re saying that you have a strong opinion on a subject about which you know very little?

  • Cure for the Hangover – Drink Stoly.

  • They have various compounds of amber acid (succinic acid) which seem to work fairly well in reducing or eliminating hangovers. The problem is that you have to remember to take it before and during your drinking session. On those occasions, I tend to become a little absent-minded. Also, if you happen to meet some friends at the close of business and reluctantly agree to accompany them for “just one,” you invariably won’t have the stuff with you.

    I recommend bringing only cash and ordering top-shelf stuff. You run out of money before any serious harm is done and have to go home.

  • And how could you have failed to mention Chile and South Africa as sources of excellent cheap wine? I can buy 1.5 l. of good cabernet or sauvignon blanc for $5.99 here in the US. More free trade agreements, please.

  • RAB

    Well I’m off to Naples in a few days.
    Anything decent round there?

  • Verity

    I’ve never been able to stand wine. Absolutely despise the stuff. Also not a fan of snobbery and pretension in general, which is basically what I consider wine connoissourship to be all about.

    Congratulations on catching us “fans of snobbery and pretension in general” out! We thought we’d got away with it!

    A bottle of bud and maybe a shot of bourbon for me thanks, I work for a living. Not in any profession which requires a basic grasp of grammar and punctuation, surely?

  • mike

    Subject (you) and verb phrase (can order) implied – I say Hank’s construction is OK. Presumably your profession is not one in which a more advanced grasp of the subtleties of grammar is required Verity?

  • Hank Scorpio

    Verity, your reply only serves to demonstrate the snobbery and pretension I was speaking about; and incidentally, those traits are all too common on this blog, and unfortunately detract from what is otherwise a great source of free market news/opinion.

    As to my profession, I’m a machinist for a shop which manufactures precision parts for heavy diesel engines, specializing in contracts for the US DOD and Caterpillar earth moving equipment. Damn, now I’ve outed myself as an unsophisticated lowbrow knuckle dragger. Oh well, still better than being an effete intellectual snob.

  • HJHJ :

    Parker certainly is very influential, especially in the US, but this ludicrously overstates the case.

    I agree, in regards to ordinary wine, I can’t imagine his influence would be particularly great – mainly because the vast bulk of wine consumers would never have heard of the man.

    Parker, who is more interested in the upper levels of wines.

    Yes, and this is where his influence is supreme. It’s a well known fact that a number of premium French producers do not price their new vintages for the all-important American and British markets until they are reviewed in The Wine Advocate. His approval can instantly “make” a producer. I recall an Australian producer who made a “Parkerised” Shiraz – that was highly appreciated by the great man himself. In response, American enthusiasts drove the price of the “Duck’s Muck” Shiraz to $1500+ a bottle. I remember reading an interview with the winemaker where he boasted he could pretty much charge what he wanted for the stuff – “half the yield, double the price!” he laughed. As well you would, I suppose. I cannot think of a more influential critic across all fields of human endeavour than Robert Parker Jnr.

  • Verity

    Hank Scorpio – Why so defensive? You implied that people who like wine – at a guess, most of the world – are effete snobs. That does smack of insecurity. Most people who like drinking wine don’t thirst for grand crus. I’m perfectly happy with the same vin du village the shopkeeper and the car mechanic drink with their meals. Nothing effete about the locally produced plonk.

    mike – I enjoy the elegance and elasticity of the English language and think there is no excuse for not being able to work within its generous boundaries. If one is criticising other people, as Hank Scorpio was, then then they should be sure no one can find fault with them.

    Are you the same mike who moved to Hong Kong? Are you a Hongkie yet? Are you glad you made the move to Asia?

  • mike

    “mike – I enjoy the elegance and elasticity of the English language and think there is no excuse for not being able to work within its generous boundaries.”

    Well yes, I agree, except that I think Hank’s ‘sentance’ was grammatically OK by virtue of its’ ‘missing’ subject and verb-phrase not actually being properly ‘missing’ as such but merely being implied – just as the subject of a passive voice sentance is often implied.

    Yes I am the same chap who left the UK for Asia – but for Taiwan rather than Hong Kong (so I can’t really say I’m a Hongkie). I’m very pleased to be where I am now – there are many things about Taiwan I much prefer over the UK. Let me choose some on-topic examples…

    People over here have a very different ‘alcohol culture’. Things we Europeans and Americans take for granted are actually surprising to many Asian people – e.g. that white wine should typically be served chilled, but that red wine should not be. I know a woman who bought a ‘super-market expensive’ cab sauvignon and kept it in her refrigerator for two years because one of her Taiwanese friends, who had visited Italy and so had become ‘knowledgable’ about wine, recommended this as a way of ‘increasing the red wine’s purity and value’!

    But it is not just with wine that you need to reality check over here. The first time I ordered a scotch in a Taiwanese bar (albeit a bar catering to foreigners) was a strange experience. I asked for a single malt scotch on the rocks and watched in amazement as the girl nodded and poured me a blended scotch into a shot glass expecting me to knock it back in one go! Mind you, most of the whiskey they serve in bars here is cheap blended crap so you might be better off knocking it back in one go anyway…

  • Verity

    Yes – “foreigners” in their own country are so amusing when they fail to instantaneously understand the culture of the foreigner ordering a drink! I mean – fall down laughing!

    I know a woman who bought a ‘super-market expensive’ cab sauvignon and kept it in her refrigerator for two years because one of her Taiwanese friends, who had visited Italy and so had become ‘knowledgable’ about wine, recommended this as a way of ‘increasing the red wine’s purity and value’!

    Laugh? I almost did.

  • mike

    “Yes – “foreigners” in their own country are so amusing when they fail to instantaneously understand the culture of the foreigner ordering a drink! I mean – fall down laughing!”

    Yes actually it is quite funny; though more worthy of a mere appreciative smile than a fall-down-laughing-in-utter-sarcasm fit. Suffice to say my comments were not practice material ahead of making a debut at next year’s Edinburgh Festival.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    HJHJ writes that the article is misleading. Huh? Of course, there is a difference between the everyday wines that people buy and the really expensive stuff. The point, surely, is that it is now possible for people to buy wines from all over the world rather than just their home area.

    To say that the hold of the top brands has become even stronger because of globalisation is flat wrong. Yes, the snob value of drinking a Latour or whatever is unlikely to diminish, but there is now so much more choice for people who want great wine without busting their bank accounts.

    Mitch writes: “How could you have failed to mention Chile and South Africa?”. I did mention them in my article! I wish people would read the effing posts before commenting on them.

    Hank Scorpio: one thing I dislike more than snobbery is inverted snobbery.

  • HJHJ


    I did not say that the ‘hold’ of the ‘top brands’ had become even stronger because of globalisation. I said that global demand for top wines had increased hugely and that this had inflated the price of top producers in traditional regions even though they have been joined at the top by several ‘new world’ producers – yes, there is more competition, but demand has expanded even faster. Increased global interest and demand for wines has been nothing but good for them. It is below his level that global competition has impacted many producers in traditional areas. I can’t really see how you could sensibly disagree with this statement.

    As for the comments that one or two above have made abou wine snobbery and pretension. I ran a wine society for over 10 years. During this time I met all sorts of people in the wine trade, including MWs, wine merchants and top producers all over the world. Do you know what? I have never met a single ‘wine snob’ amongst them. They just love wine and are keen for everyone else to share their passion. If you come across anyone being pretentious about wine you can be sure of just one thing – they know nothing about wine.

    Someone above commented about the reliability of wines from ‘new’ regions compared to France, Italy, Spain, etc. This has been partly due to the better application of technology in these areas, but also due to simpler branding and fewer (but larger) producers and a concentration on reliable grape varieties. An appellation in France, for example, covers many different producers whose quality and style may vary widely (and may vary more from year to year as climate is often less relaible than in newer areas). On the other hand, because there is a so much greater variety of producers, grape varieties and winemaking techniques in traditional areas, they are also more interesting in many ways – you will have more disappointments but also more pleasant surprises. It depends on your propensity to experiment, I suppose.
    In the UK, I’d suggest that the easiest way to try something different whilst not risking disappointment is probably to go to Waitrose and buy a bottle you’ve never heard of. Waitrose have the best buyers out of the supermarkets and because they are so much smaller than the likes of Tesco, they can stock wines produced in much smaller quantities at quit modest prices. Their quality control is also excellent. If you want tips from newspaper wine writers, Jane MacQuitty in The Times is your woman. I rate her well above the others.

    James Waterton: I don’t dispute that Parker can make demand (and prices) for a particular wine go through the roof – this is well known. But this is very different from implying that his influence sets the level of all fine wine prices. There are too many independently minded people in the wine trade for this ever to happen. Parker knows what he’s talking about, but that doesn’t mean that his judgement is faultless or unchallenged. I (and many others) don’t especially like the spurious degree of accuracy implied by his ‘out of 100’ scoring system – especially when a wine gets 50 just for turning up.

  • HJHJ – agree on pretty much everything you have to say. In my limited dabblings in the wine world I have come to realise that wine snobbery is nearly always a cloak for ignorance. Those who know what they’re talking about are rarely snobbish, because they don’t have to be.

    In regards to Parker, you’re right; he doesn’t set all fine wine prices. One man could never hope to spread himself so thinly. But he is a kingmaker without precedent and he can and does heavily influence prices in the super premium and prestige brackets – these segments of the market are obviously insignificant in terms of volume but make up a huge chunk of the overall wine market in terms of value. So I don’t think Parker’s influence should be underrated. Not that you were doing so but anyway…I also agree that Parker seems to have preferences in terms of what he likes in wine. Thus some of his ratings are certainly not for everyone. I for one am becoming a little sick of big, heavy Parkerised reds, for example.

    This is a little off topic – or a lot off topic! Anyway, I’ll persevere…do you remember we were talking about the Concept 2 rowing machine a few threads back? I recently joined a gym and they only use Concept 2s there. As far as results go, someone told me that for the best cardio workout you should put set the machine on the lightest setting and stay on it for as long as possible, rather than quickly exhausting yourself on the heaviest. Bear in mind I’m a beginner. My instinctive urge was to leave it on the heaviest setting. What do you think? Incidentally, I was actually considering investing in a machine, however I’m heading o/s for an indefinite period of time at some stage in the nearish future and couldn’t justify shelling out $2000+ for something I’d have to sell later for half the price or less.


  • Johnathan Pearce

    HJHJ, okay, I will backtrack a bit if you think I misread you. It is clearly true that high demand inflates prices of things that have a certain “kudos value” like top chateau wines, champagnes (or for that matter vintage Bugattis). Surely – and you must know this given your experience – it has inspired entrepreneurs like Mondavi etc to produce top-notch wines for those people are just are not prepared to spend a fortune on the stuff. That, if you like, was the point I was driving at, which is why I don’t think the original story I linked to was “misleading”.


  • HJHJ


    Yes, I wasn’t underrating the influence of Parker, just pointing out that others have a tendency to overrate it.

    Rowing: The Concept 2 really is the only type of rowing machine that a gym should have. It really is demonstrably superior to fancy TV monitor type rowers (the only other rowing machines worth using are the Rowperfect or Waterrower – both of which are much less suitable for gym use).

    The damper lever is the most widely misunderstood part of the C2 machine. It sets the drag factor by controlling the amount of ‘new’ air drawn into the flywheel housing and hence the feel of the machine. A high setting means more air is drawn in and hence the handle feels ‘heavier’. On lower settings, less air is drawn in and therefore it feels ‘lighter’. However, the key thing to understand is that the drag factor is not in any way an indicator of workout quality or difficulty. It simply changes the feel in the same way as gears on a bike. If you race someone on the machine on setting 1 and they are on setting 10 and you do (say) 2000m in a faster time, then you were faster – no argument. It’s just the same as a bike race – nobody cares which gear you were in. The machine is purely passive and measures the amount of work you put in, not its own feel.

    It is really important to understand this. Macho types at the gym who automatically put the lever on level 10 are deluding themselves that it’s harder.

    So no setting is fundamentally better or easier or harder than any other. Matthew Pinsent – 4 times Olympic gold medallist and possessed of cartoon-comic power output (and most other GB rowers) typically has the damper lever on level 3-4 as this best mimics the feel of a boat.

    For what it’s worth, I would recommend using lower settings because this will encourage good technique. To go fast at a lower drag factor without raising the stroke rate ridiculously, you have to accelerate hard with the legs at the beginning of the stroke (and then the resistance builds up pretty quickly even on low settings). This takes practice, so start at damper lever level 7 (say) and over a few sessions move the lever down to level 4. Each time you move it down, you wil initially find it more difficult to maintain the same pace until you become accustomed to it.

    So damper level (drag factor) has nothing to do with longer or shorter sessions or making them easier or harder.

    Longer sessions are the way to go. Ideally 30 minutes or more to really improve aerobic capacity. Control your stroke rate by slowing down on the recovery (but drive fast and hard on the drive). You should not go above mid 20s strokes per minute and ideally low 20s in normal training (although higher is permissible when racing).

    Remember that your legs should be the first to move on the drive and the last to move on the recovery. Remember to swing your body backwards and forwards during the stroke (to get the hang of this, lock your legs down and take strokes just using arms and body swing). Use the arms last (they should be completely straight for most of the leg drive) and move your hands away fast after the finish of the stroke, then slow down on the ‘slide’ as you go forward – this is your rest before the next stroke.

    By the way, the lever setting is not a very exact indicator of drag factor. This is because dust can build up inside the ‘cage’ – very common in gyms and this reduces the drag factor. Machines shoud be vacuumed every now and again. For accurate drag factor indication, you can get the display to indicate this (unfortunately I can’t tell you how as my machine has the old monitor and it’s different on later models). A drag factor of around 125-145 is the sort of area I recommend. Variations in drag factor in no way influence the accuracy of the monitor.

    Happy erging! (explanation: the C2 machine was originally labelled “The Concept 2 Rowing Ergometer” hence rowers worldwide know it as “The Erg” (or “wheel of pain” as my club captain calls it).

    Incidentally, I think that C2 machines are not much over $1000 in the US. They last forever and lose very little resale value.

  • HJHJ


    I still don’t entirely agree with you. I don’t really think that Mondavi and the like were inspired to try to produce top level wines at a lower price level. I think that he was inspired to produce top level wines, full stop. This is because of his love of wine and he (rightly) saw no reason why it could only be done in traditional European areas. In fact, he is and always has been content to get the best (highest) prices he can for his wines – he wanted a cut of the European action, if you like. Initially, of course, he could only get lower prices, because he wasn’t as well known and didn’t have the track record. This has now changed. I think that Opus One (his cooperative venture with Rothschild) demonstrates that he just wanted to join rather than undermine the old order. Good luck to him.

    The Napa is not a particularly good example of global competition. The sky-high land prices, the number of boutique wineries operated on a less than commercial basis by owners who have made their money elsewhere, and the fact that it mostly satisfies US demand demonstrates this.

    I would say that Australia has had a bigger influence globally. They have long been the world leaders in wine technology – many Australian regions are, on the face of it, too hot to make fine wine and they had to develop techniques to counteract this. In fact, Australian winemakers have travelled all over the world passing on their expertise (most notably in the south of France).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    HJHJ, other things being equal (of course they never are) more competition for stuff, including posh booze, will reduce the price or at least temper the upward push on prices from what otherwise would have been the case. Imagine how costly a case of Grand Crut would be if there were no alternative smart wines from other parts of the world.

    I chose the Napa example because I went there, but I am sure your point about Australia is correct. They seem to produce oodles of the stuff.

    If global temperatures do rise as the Greens claim, I guess my native Suffolk will see some nice harvests in the coming years.

  • Verity

    Mike – Point taken. Besides, your remarks were actually more amusing than anything I’ve any heard from an “alternative” comedian.

  • HJHJ

    Johnathon: Except, of course, people just decide to go and spend their money on something else entirely – which is what I suspect limits prices of the top wines, however restricted the supply.

    Incidentally, I don’t fancy the sound of “Grand Crut” at any price!

    In the short to medium term, England’s best chances of producing truly top class wines comes from “Champagne” style wines. Champagne tastes the way it does because of a combination of winemaking techniques (which can be replicated anywhere), grape varieties, climate and soil (which can’t be replicated anywhere). Areas in the south of England closely replicate the climate of the champagne area and so (unlike almost anywhere else in the world) does the soil. It is known as Kimmeridge clay – a dense clay on top of chalk. It’s called Kimmeridge clay because the largest outcrop in the world starts at Kimmeridge in Dorset, runs across southern England and then doesn’t re-emerge on the surface until the Champagne region. Already producers such as Nyetimber and Ridgeview are producing wines as good as most Champagne (as various blind tastings have confirmed). In fact, as the suitable area in Champagne is limited and as agricultural land in Southern England is cheaper than in Champagne, several Champagne producers have bought land here.

    I have had a few Suffolk wines. Some are quite reasonable and its relative lack of rainfall (less mildew and other diseases) means that it is potentially a good area for English wines. I doubt whether we’ll ever see Syrah/Shiraz planted there though.

    As an aside, what is really hurting French and other European producers is not so much globalisation, but the decline in domestic consumption. The French import very little wine (except, ironically, Port – they now drink more of it than we do – which was ‘invented’ as a result of a British trade embargo on France). They have not been able to counterbalance this by increasing exports to countries where consumption is increasing (e.g. the UK) due to global competition and their proportion of world wine trade has dropped (although I don’t think there has been an absolute decline). To get an idea of why this is causing such a problem, it’s worth noting that the UK now buys more wine from Australia than from France, despite the fact that until recently, Bordeaux alone produced more wine than the whole of Australia.

  • Verity

    Don’t forget New Zealand. The smoothest, driest, most reasonably-priced Chardonnay in the world – or at least one of them – you know how I eschew dogmatism – is Montana.

  • HJHJ


    Technically speaking, any chardonnay (or indeed wine made from any other grape) can, and often is, made totally ‘dry’ simply by fermenting the grape must until all the sugar is coverted to alcohol.

    However, wines made in relatively warm climes often taste less dry because of the riper fruit flavours, even though, technically, they are just as dry. Therefore if you want a really ‘dry’ tasting chardonnay, I’d suggest that Chablis (very cool climate = less ripe grapes) is where you’d look, although I’d be the first to admit that quality can be variable.

    That’s not to knock Montana, who make consistency high quality wines, though not the driest tasting ones.

  • Some of my favourite Chardonnays come from NZ. Probably the best one I’ve had is Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chard. Great stuff.

    HJHJ – Thanks for the tips; I tried to remember all of them when I used the C2 tonight. I also had a look at the website for further technique instructions. Anyway, half an hour on that bloody machine takes it out of you. Hopefully not after a few weeks of it, though.

    Thanks again,

  • HJHJ


    There’s a very useful step-by-step animation on the C2 UK web site.

    I wish I could tell you that practice makes sessions easier. Unfortunately, most people tend to get competitive with themselves and push to go harder as they get fitter. However, you should get to the point where you are ‘pushing’ to go faster, rather than just hanging on after just three or four 30 minute sessions.

    If you’re interested, I do a mixture of timed sessions (30 or 60 minutes) and distance sessions (10,000m or 12,000m) just for variety (tonight’s was a 10k session) and also a bit of interval (speed) work to get ready for the racing season. I once (crazily) did a marathon (42,195 metres) whilst watching the London marathon on TV.

    If you’re less fanatical than me, just keeping up steady 30 minute sessions will get you fitter than 95% of the population.

  • Verity

    Well, HJHJ, I didn’t know the technicalities – so thanks for that – but despite living in the Languedoc, I have never heard of Aussies there. But they did get themselves all in a flutter when Mondavi bought a huge vineyard a couple of years ago and then bunked out.

    I like Montana because they are nice, easy versatile wines to drink on their own or have with a meal. They’re just very pleasant wines.

  • HJHJ


    It would be fair to say that NZ produces the highest average quality white wines in the world. I believe that it gets the highest average prices too. Of course it doesn’t (yet) produce the variety of France, but most commentators agree that for one particular grape variety – Sauvignon Blanc – it produces the best examples in the world (exceeding those of France). This is a significant achievement and perhaps the only grape variety where it is geerally agreed that the very best examples of the ‘new world’ exceed those of the ‘old world’. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is famous worldwide and supply sells out practically instantly.

    NZ has come a long way since it was planted almost exclusively with Muller Thurgau grapes and produced rather bland wines. NZ’s red wines have improved greatly in recent years too.

    The French keep quiet about Aussies advising them. Neither is it a universal phenomenon – the vineyards of the south of France are vast and encompass a huge variety of producers, attitudes and quality.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    HJHJ, you might be able to help me on this, but is it true that a terrible disease that nearly wiped out the vines in parts of Europe was averted thanks to imports of fresh vines from vulgar America?

  • rosignol

    Not exactly.

    Check wikipedia for “phylloxera” if you want the details.

  • HJHJ


    You are referring to phylloxera. This bug (native to North America) ravaged European vineyards in the late 19th century. It migrated through Europe over a 20 or so year period.

    Only the rootstock of certain American native vine types is resistant or immune. Due to the complexity of the life cycle of phylloxera, no effective treatment has ever been found. The problem is that native American vines are all of a different vine family and do not produce good wine grapes. The almost universally adopted solution is to graft European vines onto resistant American rootstock. If you visit a vineyard, you will almost always see the gnarled graft just a few inches above the ground.

    Vines don’t live as long as they once did due to the graft, but it’s generally agreed that the wine is unaffected.

    Ironically, in recent years, phylloxera has recently reared its ugly head again in California due to the almost universal use of an American rootstock recommended by UC Davis, which has turned out not to be quite as resistant as claimed. Most Californian vineyards have, or will need to be, replanted over the next few years as a result.

    The only country that has avoided phylloxera is Chile as it is protected by mountains on one side, a desert to the north and sea to the west. Well-enforced quarantine regulations have kept the bug out on imported vines.

    The best book on this subject is called “The Great Wine Blight” by George Ordish. He draws extensively on the experience of Chateau Loudenne in Bordeaux. Loudennne was bought by Gilbey’s (of gin fame) in 1874, just before phylloxera struck and the crisis was well documented in the letters flying backwards and forwards between Loudenne and its London owners. Phylloxera generally wipes out vineyards over a few years, not suddenly, so there were extensive attempts made to treat the vines during this period.

    The solution to phylloxera was a true American-European co-operation, if you like.