Stuart George

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Conrad Frankel at Art Work Space

In Art and artists on November 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

On 19 November, the Irish artist Conrad Frankel’s debut UK exhibition “The First People” opened at Art Work Space gallery in London.

The basement of a Bayswater hotel is a very unlikely place to find an art gallery. The Hempel Hotel is tucked away in Craven Gardens and is a pig of a place to find if you have not been there before – especially on a windy night in November. But Naomi Murtagh, partner of Bottle Apostle’s Andrew Eakin, has found a very striking venue in which to showcase art.

“The First People” showcases 17 of Conrad Frankel’s oil on canvas works based on nineteenth century portrait photographs. The combination of forensic draughtsmanship and a varnish finish makes the paintings look from a distance as if they really are photographs.

The thousand yard – or rather, five second exposure – stare of the subjects gives them a slightly unnerving tone. Some of the portraits have a very subtle hint of flesh tones on the cheeks, barely discernible except up close.

Conrad Frankel, "Twins", oil on canvas, varnished, 60" x 48"

Prices for the Frankel canvases range from £500 for the 3.75″ x 4.25″ Tiny Sisters to £5,500 for 60″ x 48″ pictures.

The exhibition runs until 14 January 2010.

Advertisements

Bumping into Pete Doherty

In Art and artists on November 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I spent this afternoon at a friend’s party to celebrate the publication of her book. The do was at The Rosemary Branch in Islington, in one of those parts of London where poverty and riches lie side by side as in a Dickens novel.

While fetching drinks in the downstairs bar a scruffy young sod ambled in. It was Pete Doherty.

The first thing that I noticed was his height. He is a six footer. I am only 5’7″ so he dwarfed me.

Then I noticed the tattoos on his neck. Not a good look, Peter.

His hair hadn’t been washed for a few days. I cannot claim the moral high ground on that – when I was 18 I didn’t wash my hair for six months.

Making my way back upstairs he was blocking my way. Whichever way I went he followed. Knowing that everybody was looking at him, Doherty put on a performance. It was like the scene in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup when Harpo copies Groucho’s moves exactly until they eventually collide.

Doherty asked “Which way are you going mate?” and then finally I was able to pass.

So that is how I “met” Pete Doherty on a Sunday afternoon in north London. I am not a great fan of his music – Carl Barât was the brains in The Libertines, I reckon. And as far as cocky young musicians go, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight is for me the best. He likes cricket, which is always the sign of a gentleman.

My friend Ann Tilyer’s book is called An A-Z of Possible Worlds. It is a collection of 26 short stories presented in a box.

It is great. Please buy it.

Chile con carne: A speech on the UK market and Chilean wine

In Tastings on November 13, 2009 at 9:13 am

On 8 October, I was invited to give a speech at the Technical University Federico Santa María in Valparaíso on “the prospects of (Chilean wine in) international markets from 2010–2015, with a medium to long term perspective and to visualize the position of Chile therein.”

The seminar was called “PVINO VALPARAÍSO” and sought “to integrate related media managed by experts, winemakers, export managers, commerce, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, journalists, Chilean wine companies, and associations attached to the industry.”

My speech is reproduced below. We were permitted 15 minutes, à la Warhol.

A colleague, who very bravely gave the first speech, said that I was “very cool” when I spoke. But he had noticed my leg under the table, jumping around like a fish on the end of a hook…

Perspective of wine on the International Markets 2010–2015

PVINO VALPARAÍSO

Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María

8 October 2009

SDG speech

SDG presenting to PVINO VALPARAÍSO.

Chile has long had connections to the English wine trade. It is praised in The Narrative of the Honourable John Byron, a 1768 account of how he was shipwrecked on the coast of Patagonia and the survivors decided to split into two teams, one to make its way by boat to Rio de Janeiro, the other, Byron’s, to sail north and meet Spanish-speakers.

Nearly 250 years later, the UK is the most valuable wine importing market in the world and until recently was Chile’s number one export outlet. The latest MAT data reveals that, to June 2008, the UK imported 94 million litres of Chilean wine valued at US$229 million. But to June 2009, this had dropped to US$218 million.

SDG tasting at the Concours

Rule Britannia! SDG tasting at the Concours Mondial de Brussels Chile 2009.

Despite the great challenges of the current UK market to all wine producers, Chile has much to be pleased about. According to the most recent ACNielsen statistics released in June, which cover an extremely difficult period in the UK—indeed, global—economy, Chile’s value is rising faster than its volume. Its average bottle price has increased significantly, from £3.71 in 2003 to £4.13 in 2009, against the current UK average of £4.26. This is Chile’s highest ever-average price, though perhaps one should bear in mind that after taxes have been deducted, it is equivalent to £1.98. Probably the growth would not be so significant if it were not for those annual rises in duty and VAT on wine. But that does mean that the UK consumer is prepared to spend more money on wine when required to do so.

Chile comes in at number seven in the average price chart, just behind Argentina, which averages £4.16.

Currently Chile is in sixth place in its value share of the UK off-trade, behind Australia, USA, France, Italy and South Africa. It is ahead of Spain, Germany, New Zealand and Argentina. It has grown by 15 percent since 2008 to £396 million, growth second only to South Africa, which has grown by 35 percent.

Its volume share of the UK off-trade market is 8.2 percent, also its highest ever. In 2003, Chile’s share was 5.9 percent.

Chile’s share of the off-trade by value is now 7.9 percent. Only six of the top 13 countries by value have shown an increase since June 2008. The top three nations—Australia, USA and France—have all declined. It is perhaps an opportunity for Chile to grab more market share, even if the UK economy remains deeply troubled. Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.6 percent from April to June but there were signs of recovery over the summer and it was expected—or rather, hoped—that there would be growth in the third quarter.

SDG at

Smug? Moi? SDG at Viñedos Puertas's Cuartel 46 Vineyard, overlooking the El Milagro stud farm.

Chile has done well in the independent off-trade sector over the last three years. It has made strong gains and, again, its value is rising faster than its volume.

Only 20 percent of all Chilean wine sold in the off-trade is at £5 or above but this is growing, up from 15 percent in 2007. This suggests that there might be a bright future for premium Chilean wine at more ambitious price points, particularly the £5–10 category.

To June 2009, Chile sold 41.1 percent white, 51.6 percent red and 7.2 percent rosé. So in the UK, Chile is still primarily considered as a supplier of red wine.

In the UK on-trade, the last two years have seen a significant decline overall, down nine percent by volume and down six percent by value. Australia has declined by 15 percent, South Africa by 16 percent and France by 13 percent. Only Chile, USA and Argentina have shown any on-trade volume growth in this period. Since 2004, Chile has increased its share from 6.5 percent to 9.5 percent, behind USA, Australia, Italy and France.

In terms of the UK market, then, Chile has many things in its favour—good quality, recognised brands such as Concha y Toro, Errázuriz and Viña Maipo; a relative lack of internal politics—think of how this continues to hobble France and Italy; and excellent viticultural resources—a great diversity of microclimates and phylloxera-free soils, much of which can be farmed in an environmentally-friendly manner. The climate change and water issues faced by other countries are far less grave in Chile.

At his lecture given to the WSET in 2003, Eduardo Chadwick referred to “talented young viticulturists and winemakers including Alvaro Espinoza, Marcelo Papa, Adolfo Hurtado, Nicolas Bizzarri and many other names that probably you have never heard of.” Of course, these have all since distinguished themselves. Chile is fortunate to have young, internationally trained winemakers such as these, a vinous version of the “Chicago Boys,” a group of young, well-travelled freethinkers.

SDG with Christian Callec and Sylvia Cava

SDG discussing Casa Marin's wines with Christian Callec and Sylvia Cava.

In terms of the wines themselves, I tasted over 60 wines, of different styles and price points, at the annual Wines of Chile tasting in London in early September. I rarely found wines that were over-oaked or had excessive levels of sulphur. Ethyl acetate, or volatile acidity, was sometimes a problem on the least expensive wines—but that would be true of everywhere. Among the newer bottlings, the Pinot Noirs are coming along nicely, I think.

There is undoubtedly great winemaking expertise in Chile. But perhaps Chilean wine needs to decide whether it wants to be big or beautiful. The wines seem to have lost the leafy freshness that made them so appealing a decade ago, with some winemakers nowadays trying too hard to gain power and richness at the expense of elegance and freshness. High alcohol and low acidity is an increasingly unfashionable pairing in the UK market, so Chile must strive to achieve freshness and civilised alcohol levels. The emergence of new, cool climate regions such as the Leyda Valley bodes well for producing wines in this style.

Errázuriz

SDG and other tasters assessing Errázuriz wines.

Overall, Chile should continue to improve its already excellent viticultural, winemaking and marketing practices. Chile might also consider more widespread use of screwcap closures, which are well-suited to its commercial, fruit-driven wines. Quality shouldn’t be compromised. Even when times are hard, quality will always sell.

At the commercial level, Chile has done well. The various Concha y Toro brands, for example, represent excellent value for money. Chile certainly has it within itself to produce lots of good, fruity wines. But it has not yet created many fine, or “icon,” wines that would give the country a patina of high achievement and create more profits.

Of course it is quite possible that the best sites in Chile have not yet been planted or even discovered. The possibility of greatness is there—as the vines get older the wines should get better—but it is still too soon for Chile to claim it has world-class wines.

Production of DO wine in Chile has more than quadrupled since 1996. Grape plantings have increased by 120 percent since 1994. But Chile must avoid oversupply, which would ultimately wipe out all the gains made over the last few years. The effects of oversupply and discounting are now being felt painfully by Australia. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is now being discounted in UK supermarkets, which could prove fatal for its vaunted average bottle price.

Today Chile has about 6 percent of world exports of wine; Australia has about 9 percent. In the UK, Chile’s share, as mentioned earlier, is just over 8 percent, so slightly above its global share. Australia’s is over 20 percent, which shows how dependent it has become on the UK. Chile should try and spread its exports across as many markets as it can. It should not put all its eggs in the English basket. Chile should not allow itself to be seduced by the UK supermarkets, tempting as their offers might be. There is another 25 percent of the off-trade to be targeted, which includes nearly 700 good independent wine retailers.

Didn't they do well?

Didn't they do well? SDG with award winners from Valdivieso.

To continue to make progress in the UK market, I think that Chile needs to continue to provide good value for money at all price points, particularly in the £5–10 range; it needs to offer a broad range of varietals and styles— “Day-coloured wine,/night-coloured wine,/wine with purple feet/or wine with topaz blood,” as Pablo Neruda puts it—but without sacrificing Chilean typicité or character. A lot of the wines that I tasted in London recently were perfectly correct but had little to define them as Chilean.

There is a scene in Pablo Larrain’s recent film Tony Manero in which the film’s protagonist Raul, who models himself on John Travolta’s disco king, is told by his girlfriend, “Manero is an American. You’re not. You belong here.” Chilean wine should not try and be Tony Manero. It should be Raul. Perhaps in the UK it needs to promote a stronger national identity to consumers. Australia has kangaroos and cricket. Argentina has football and tango. South Africa has lions and leopards. But for British people there is nothing that immediately comes to mind that is uniquely and recognisably Chilean. There is a lack of cultural links with the UK, no direct flights and little of the tourism that has assisted the wines of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but this can be overcome progressively. An identity would help but, on the other hand, negative associations, such as South Africa and Apartheid or Argentina and Maradona, have never hampered Chile.

Without a strong national identity, promoting regionality is some way off yet, I think. The Chilean “brand” needs to be well-established before any attempts at telling consumers the difference between the Elqui Valley and the Malleco Valley. Even Australia is still struggling to push the regional message. It can be done but it will take a long time.

SDG with fellow Concours tasters at Viña Miguel Torres Restaurant.

SDG with fellow Concours tasters at Viña Miguel Torres Restaurant.

Gazing into the crystal ball, for the next five or six years I see more of the same in the UK market. There is likely to be ever-increasing taxation on wine and other alcoholic drinks, making price points harder to maintain and squeezing suppliers’ margins. The UK market is often described as “mature,” which is a euphemism for “saturated.” It is and will continue to be a tough place to sell wine.

When the Wines of Chile UK office was reopened in 2002, its vision, as part of a five-year plan, was “to be recognized as the New World’s preferred alternative source of Premium Wine to Australia.” It has not quite achieved this yet, with South Africa ahead of it at the moment. However, I understand that Wines of Chile is currently developing a long-term plan of about 25 years that is due for publication in the first quarter of 2010. I think it is important that there is a plan and everybody is seen to be pulling—or pushing—in the same direction. Think of how the Chicago Boys implemented their long-term economic plans in stages. It need not be another El Ladrillo but Chilean wine needs to have a clear direction.

Michael Cox, the outstanding head of Wines of Chile in the UK, told me, “In my view the future of the Chilean wine business looks extremely positive for many reasons, and the opportunities are substantial. In fact, after nearly 40 years in the wine trade, I have never been more excited about one country’s ability to prosper. I know I am biased (!) but I genuinely feel it.”

So, I would suggest keeping it simple: Make good, fresh wines that are value for money and have something uniquely Chilean about them. There is no need to complicate things like Joseph Conrad does in his Chilean-set novel Nostromo.

I would urge Wines of Chile not to be like the Chilean government was in 1859, when it abandoned all the hard work done by William Wheelwright in establishing a railway over the Andes to join Chile and Argentina. Be like Wheelwright—and keep building that line to Britain!

Coffee, horses and donkeys: Grumpy Mule coffee tasting

In Tastings on November 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Although I have been to a few wine tastings in my time, I had never been to a coffee tasting. But on 22 October, the Yorkshire-based importer Grumpy Mule presented a tasting of coffees at Waterstone’s on Piccadilly.

Ian Balmforth and Damian Blackburn

Ian Balmforth and Damian Blackburn of Grumpy Mule.

There are two main coffee bean varietals: Robusta, which is hardy, generally grown at lower altitudes and has a big dose of caffeine, and Arabica, which has less of the aforementioned attributes.

Damian Blackburn, Grumpy Mule’s Quality Assurance Manager, gave me a tutored tasting of 13 coffees. The tasting technique for coffee is essentially the same as that for wine—an assessment by nose and then plenty of slurping in the mouth.

Uganda Robusta (control sample)

Burnt rubber, smoky. Not subtle.

Brasil Santos Arabica (control sample)

Much more refined, with a noticeably “cooler climate” aroma.

Sumatra KBQB Cooperative (certified Organic and Fairtrade certified Arabica)

Grumpy Mule’s best-selling coffee, produced by a cooperative of 1,600 smallholder members.

Sort of halfway between the first two coffees, though perhaps a bit closer in style to Santos than Uganda. Mild palate.

Ethiopia Harar, Illili Derartu Cooperative from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (certified Organic and Fairtrade certified Arabica)

Grown at 2,000 metres altitude but surprisingly quite low in acidity. Winey! With the addition of hot water during the second assessment, it showed blueberry aromas.

Kenya Gethumbwini Estate Lot (Arabica)

The beans for this were “fully washed”, which, according to coffeereview.com, means “coffee prepared by removing the skin and pulp from the bean while the coffee fruit is still moist. In the traditional wet process, the coffee skins are removed (pulping), the skinned beans are allowed to sit in tanks where enzymes loosen the sticky fruit pulp or mucilage (fermentation), after which the loosened fruit is washed off the beans (washing).”

Brighter nose and more acidity than the previous coffee—washing intensifies acidity, apparently.

Rwanda Musasa, Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Bourbon Arabica

Bright style again. Clean and fresh with the addition of hot water.

Tanzania “Footprint”, Blackburn Estate Peaberries (Arabica)

“Deeper” than the previous pair, with a bitter, chocolaty palate.

Guatemala Pocola, Finca Santa Paula (Arabica)

“Green” and leafy.

Costa Rica Finca La Pira (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot Arabica)

A bit richer than the Guatemalan coffee but still suggesting “cool climate” origins.

Panama Esmeralda Special 2009 “Mario San Jose”, Hacienda La Esmeralda, Geisha Arabica (micro-lot)

Very perfumed, with orange particularly noticeable. Lovely and very unusual, and probably my favourite of the tasting. A 227g bag costs almost as much as a good bottle of Premier Cru white Burgundy!

Nicaragua La Picona, Maragogipe Arabica (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot)

Herbal, especially on the finish.

Colombia Las Delicias Arabica (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot)

Smoky, with a milk chocolate finish.

Brazil Fazenda Santa Terezinha Arabica (certified Organic)

Pungent and chocolaty. Less acidity than the Colombian.

Jamaica Blue Mountain, Clifton Mount Estate (Arabica)

Mild and a bit smoky.

Andrew Jefford wrote a splendid feature on tea and wine a couple of years ago but I think there is a good article still to be written on the relationship and parallels between coffee and wine, involving extensive travel and research in Central and South America, East Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean…

More seriously, there are clear parallels between the structure of the wine and coffee industries. I read recently that the 14 clans that commanded El Salvador’s coffee industry have morphed over recent years into eight conglomerates.  The same has happened to, for example, the Australian wine industry. It is a depressing scenario…

E9 Disciples: The Bottle Apostle

In Tastings on November 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm

On 21 October, the Hackney wine merchant Bottle Apostle held a belated “launch party” hosted by owner Andrew Eakin and General Manager Tom Jarvis.

Image courtesy of Londontown.com

Bottle Apostle opened in July in what used to be Frocks restaurant. The building is in a snug retail strip of boutiques shops and cafes next to Victoria Park in Hackney, an area frequented by yummy mummies and the like. It is an East End version of Bellevue Road and Wandsworth Common, my local “nappy valley”.

The shop has four Enomatic machines that maintain eight wines each, so on any given day 32 wines, typically 16 each of red and white, can be sampled.

These Enomatics cost £8,750 each—quite an investment. Argon gas is pumped into the bottles and can keep a wine fresh for up to four weeks. “They’re labour intensive,” explains Tom. “You have to clean them and change the bottles.” Sometimes they don’t behave—but they are Italian-built.

Customers buy a “Bottle Apostle Smartcard” and then top it up with however much they like, à la Oyster. The appropriate amount is then deducted when a wine is selected from the Enomatic.

The wines are not as grand, or at least not as expensive, as those available by the glass at The Sampler in Islington or Selfridges’ Wonder Bar—no Pétrus here. But despite being in the East End it is a more salubrious location, I think, with the Ginger Pig butchers next door but one. All very civilised.

“We’re not specialists in any given area,” says Tom, who worked at Oddbins before teaching wine courses at Kensington and Chelsea College of Further Education. Tarlant Brut Zero sells well, reinforcing the notion that low dosage Champagnes have become fashionable. A dozen beers and ciders are also stocked and there is a room downstairs for tastings, dinners and so on.

They’re doing well in a difficult period. “Now we’re starting phase 2, to expand beyond the local area and keep the van busy,” Tom said.

I tried the following wines, all of which were sound examples of their type and less than £3 a pop.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2008

I spent some time at this estate during my first visit to New Zealand in 2004. This 2008 is richer in style than I remember it, though the barrel-influenced Maremma version was always a big mouthful.

Casa do Mouraz Dão 2007

Green pear skin flavours, with a dry and rather austere finish. Probably a good pairing with bacalhau.

Monte da Peceguina Vinho Regional Alentejano 2008

Fruity, warming finish. Slightly weird, hard to place nose—but it is made from fairly obscure Portuguese varieties!

Mollydooker Two Left Feet McLaren Vale 2008

A leviathan. 16.5 percent alcohol but not as daunting as expected. Nonetheless, as Richard Thompson sang, “How can you dance with two left feet?”

My friend and Hackney resident Jane Egginton has done a post about Bottle Apostle on her blog at http://hackneyhome.blogspot.com/ – well worth a look, especially if you live in the East End.