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Wine Doesn’t Sell Wine, Stories Sell Wine (Nederburg Auction 2013 Keynote Speech Recap)

Vinted on September 12, 2013 binned in commentary, going pro, on the road

I’m not-so-freshly back from Cape Town, where last week I delivered the keynote address at the 39th annual Nederburg Auction. Somehow, my back survived the jaunt (though the sciatica and disk issues did some relatively serious damage on my anxiety).

Since the Nederburg organizers don’t invite keynote speakers back, I felt even less pressure than normal (and I don’t start with much in this regard to begin with) to censor my thoughts… and so I think I delivered on the promised “tough luv” messages about the difficulty, complexity, and insanity of the U.S. wine market, and my ideas on how South Africa can still “win” there.

The organizers were absolutely lovely people, the event was top-notch, and the hospitality beyond any reasonable sense of expectation. Also, I’ve now officially tasted impala and can now tell you that I understand why the big cats prefer to hunt those suckers down in Africa (after the lunch of it I had at La Motte’s fabulous restaurant in Franschhoek, I was ready to try to run a few of those things down and eat them raw myself).

Anyway, the auction itself was successful this year, with price per bottle up over last year’s event. Some amazing juice got auctioned off on day two during the charity portion of the event (including two bottles of 1981 Hill of Grace that were generously donated to the auction by Nederburg in my name… and no, I didn’t get to drink any of it). Below are some images that pale in comparison to actually being in the beautiful country of SA, and (eventually… hang in there!) an embedded video of me getting all Southern-Hemisphere-Keynote on everyone…

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Wine Pleasure Through The Whining Pain (Foxen Recent Releases)

Excruciating pain has a way of giving you additional focus.

I’m learning this the hard way, courtesy of a degenerated L5-S1 lumbar disk which is causing a bulge that my spinal cord finds disagreeable (“disagreeable” as in “excruciating sciatica that is more painful than when I broke a bone in my hand and is now at the point of nearly debilitating me”).

I mention this as framing only, because when you’re on the road (in this case, a paying gig handling social media ambassador duties for the 2013 Chardonnay Symposium) dealing with this kind of pain, it takes something special for you to bother expending the energy required to really focus on it. You’ve got to seriously want it, and it has to be seriously worth it.

That’s the best way I can sum up my time tasting a handful of the twenty nine (!) different wines offered by Foxen’s vintner Dick Doré and winemaker Bill Wathen during a brief trek through Santa Maria a few weeks ago; that they’re worth your focus.

Doré was scruffily unshaven (not judging – so was I!), down to earth and amicable, touring me with the occasional waves of his long and lanky arms through their new winery that sites a short distance down the road from the barn in which Foxen had been making wine for about twenty-five years. Foxen is one of those unassuming producers that sits under the radar, but gets a knowning nod when discussed among wine geeks. I got the impression from Doré that they like it that way, and that they’ve yet to fully grow into the skin of a three-year-old facility that would be modest by most California Disneyworld-like tasting room standards…

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Bringing Tough Love To Cape Town (Nederburg Wine Auction 2013)

Vinted on August 20, 2013 binned in going pro, on the road

I’m very excited to tell you that I’ll be delivering the keynote address at the 39th Nederburg Wine Auction in Cape Town, South Africa on September 7th.

Nederburg is often cited as one of the wine world’s most major auctions annually. So… no pressure… no pressure…! The 2013 auction collection includes 72 red wines, 36 white wines, one Méthod Cap Classique, eight dessert wines and 15 fortified wines, and I’m looking forward to trying them all. Anthony Barne, MW from Bonhams is taking up the slamming-down-the-hammer duties.

My keynote is tentatively titled “Hustling Wine in the land of Big Hat, No Cattle: How South Africa Can Win in the U.S. Wine Marketplace” – and I think we both know that the Cape Townians (sp?) have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.

I’m fortunate to be following up the previous keynote work of two friends of mine, Mike Veseth and David White, who delivered the keynote addresses at the Nederburg auction in 2012 and 2011, respectively. I’m pretty sure that both of them did so while wearing jackets and standing respectfully behind a podium, so the Nederburg attendees are in for something completely and totally different when I hit that stage. And no, I won’t be wearing platform shoes. Anyway, I’ll be touching on themes that both of those gentlemen used as cornerstones in their keynote speeches, namely the U.S. economy (mostly in how bad of a shape it really is, and what that means for future wine buying) and the changing of the guard when it comes to wine tastemaker and consumer opinion-forming (yes, Millennials, you will be get top billing in this, as a bit of a spin-off of ideas touched on during the speech about the U.S. wine market I gave while in Argentina earlier this year).

I hope that my South African cohorts are ready for a bit of well-meant tough love, because they’ve got their work cut out for them in terms of conquering the U.S. wine market, not in small part due to the fact that the only things that most American know about South Africa are District 9 and Lethal Weapon 2 (“Dip-lo-matic immunity!!!” BANG! “Just been revoked!”).

But despite that challenging starting point, the hill can, indeed, be taken. How? Well, that part gets revealed when I prance around on stage in Cape Town in September.

In the meantime… if you have thoughts on how South African wine can compete on the U.S. playing field (and that you’d like me to consider quoting in the keynote address), then, in the immortal words of KISS, shout it, shout it, shout it, shout it out loooooud!

Cheers!

The Riesling Up-And-Comers That You’re Probably Ignoring (Riesling Rendezvous 2013)

You’d think that, as a self-professed Riesling freak, I’d have been in a Happy Place that was damn near orgasmic in attending the 2013 Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle, as a media guest of the organizers.

And you’d be right, of course. For Riesling lovers, this was “I’d better go change my pants again” kind of tasting event, with Riesling stalwarts (and their wines) assembled from all over the globe (with the oddly notably exception of Alsace, of which not a drop was poured over the weekend).

But that’s not a good story. I mean, as tear-enducingly, soul-achingly good as some of the Rieslings from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Robert Weil, Dr. Loosen (the good doctor Ernie was in the house at RR, by the way) and A. Christmann can be… is it really that interesting to tell you that they’re still tear-enducingly, soul-achingly good? Not really, methinks (now there’s a word that doesn’t get enough airtime these days!).

No, the story is about the Rieslings that aren’t quite as tear-enducingly, soul-achingly good, but are still pretty damn good, the Rieslings that hail from locations that would surprise most of the Riesling purists out there. And I should know, since I participated in two sessions of twenty blind-tasted Rieslings during which MWs, winemakers, sommeliers and wine media pros all took turns mostly getting the provenance of those wines totally and completely wrong. Which means that Riesling now being made worldwide is probably getting better, converging on a consistent flavor and aroma profile “fingerprint,” and now more than ever before offers more quality choices for those who are willing to explore some of the Riesling-producing areas whose names aren’t yet on the tip of your tongue, but whose wines probably ought to be…

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