Critter wines ?

January 22, 2013

Critter wine labels

Screen shot of the search result: critter wines

What are critter wines, you may ask?

Well, especially in Australia vintners and wine-makers seems to love to put pictures of cute little animals on to their labels. They select mostly marsupials but also other little animals which call Australia their home are to be found.

So on any super market shelf in Australia you will find bottles of wine with penguins, turtles, owls, emus, brolgas (a crane), and of course koalas, wallabies and kangaroos on their labels.

These are “critter wines”.

I found various entries on “critter wines” in the blogoshere with interesting essays and ruminations about this kind of wine labels, the quality associated with the products and the marketing of these wines. One of the main question is “do they all suck”? Of course not. But some do.

Many of these critter wines show a high level of quality. One of the most famous labels is yellow tail, owned by Casella Wines, one of the biggest family-owned enterprise in the Australian wine industry.

But because of the strong Australian dollar even a successful enterprise like Casella Wines struggels especially when they are exposed significantly to the US wine market.

Let us hope that Casella Wines can manage to stay in business. Then we can continue to enjoy their critter wines. The wine blog epicurious lists the ‘2007 Reserve Pinot Grigio’ (South Eastern Australia) by yellow tail($15) as one of the top five critter wines.

I guess this vintage is gone by now. I should try their Pinot Grigio although this is not my favourite grape variety.


Advertising for China’s wine market

January 24, 2012

The other day when I travelLed in China, I realized that there are quite a few advertisements regarding grape wine displayed in prominent public places.

I found some attractive ads on a rotating billboard which I photographed. A glossy airline magazine had also a few ads which I found interesting.

Let us have a look at them.

The first four pictures below show caucasian men looking at wine bottles and/or seem to sample wine. The men are of a mature age and seem to know what they are doing. They emit the scent of experts, professionalism and sincerity suggesting that we the viewers can trust them.

I found the ad for icewine intriguing. The three others deal with red wine, the most appreciated grape wine in China.

The next Three pictures show specific wine brands promoted by the ad. Two of them are for Chinese brands, Chateau Junding and Niya, the thrid is for a French wine Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux? The price of 1600 Yuan is not insignificant, but many Chinese consumers go for the most expensive Frnech red wines. As almost everything in China wine consumption is booming. In 2012 China has overtaken the United Kingdom as the fifth largest wine consumer in the world.

The last two photos from an airline magazine cover a specific winery and wine region and invite people to visit the place. This is wine tourism in the making.

Given the fact that many prospective Chinese investors are visiting vineyards and wineries in Australia these days, and more and more buyers of Australian premium wines come from China, it is worthwhile to have closer look at the Chinese wine industry, wine consumption habits, change of tastes and many other issues related to the appreciation of fine wine.

The freedom to grow grapes

May 4, 2011

Two Hills Vineyard – Sauvignon Blanc Block

For us Australians in Victoria it is somehow unthinkable that we would consider to ask government for permission to plant a vineyard or to plant vines. My native Germany, however, is very different in this regard.

Recently I found a news story about a village in Saxonia, named Grosspoensa, which had planted about 1,000 vines near a re-naturalised open coal mine, now flooded and used as a lake.

In 2006 the village government had requested the planting rights for 26 ha from the higher level government. But because the village is not located inside the classified Saxonian wine region therefore this request was denied and planting rights were not granted.

Two Hills Chardonnay

Nonetheless the village planted 0.3 ha with vines disregarding the higher governments rejection in 2008. The plan was to rent out the small vineyard parcels to hobby vintners. Now the vines had to be removed again. The state ministry of environment and agriculture ordered the removal. Also a fine was imposed (3,700 EURO). The village tried to negotiate and a second fine of 4,800 EURO followed.

The villagers were outraged that they had to pay twice and to pull out their young vines. The European Wine Market Regulation, however, specifies what punishment illegally planted vineyards entail for the planters.

Well, European bureaucrats seem to manage the wine industry along the lines of an old fashinoned Leninist central planning scheme. Why do they not trust the market and the people exchanging goods through voluntary transactions?

Pip’s Paddock Chardonnay

Also the foxes like sweet grapes

October 4, 2009


Ripe Riesling grapes, Herrenberg in Schoden/Saar

Right now it is vintage time in Germany and along the Mosel and the Saar one can admire ripening grapes. What a beautiful picture.

The weather was warm and dry when I accompanied my friend Heinz on a morning hunt in Schoden, Saar. We sat on a raised hide from about 5:30 until 8 in the morning. We watched two red deer does with their young ones making their way through the meadow. Later we went through the hunting territory and checked out a couple of places.


I found the above turd of a red fox. Obviously the beast loves what humans love: the juicy fresh and sweet grapes. Also other wild animals love to nibble from the vines, especially red deer and wild pigs. They can be a quite a nuisance.

Autumn is just such a beautiful time in Germany. I will share more with you soon. Watch my blog entries.

Industry outlook: The Australian wine sector in 2009

January 18, 2009


Too many of those

It does not look good for us grape and wine producers here “down under” at the beginning of 2009. Analysts and wine industry experts, among others, are predicting another surplus for the 2009 vintage. The global financial crisis (and not the drought) is the “hammer” going to hit many artisan as well as industrial wine producers. Otherwise the bigger producers would not worry so much in public. Everybody expects the demand for fine wine to be sluggish at best in 2009 and the years to come.

Australia has about 170,000 ha under vines. The total volume of the coming vintage is expected to be around 1.85 million tonnes, about 400 to 500 thousand too much, according to some analysts. Experts at the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation believe that the sector has to shrink by 10, maybe 20 % in order to survive.

Grape growers will be hit particularly hard. Prices for fruit might be as low as 150 to 200 A$ per tonne. This is less than half of cost. The 600 A$/t we received for grapes last year are looking big by these new standards. For many grape growers the making of their own wines and the development of brands and markets are out of reach, and would anyway only be a temporary relief.

The “big producers”, accounting for about 73% of total production in Australia, are most likely to survive. In fact, they have recently made public statements calling for small producers to get out of production and out the way, thereby making room for the survival of the biggest (not the fittest). For instance wineries below an investment of 5 million A$ should close.

Findings from an accounting firm suggest that “most wineries with a sales volume below 10 million A$ (which is about 90% of all producers) are loosing money”. Implying that small producers are not competitive but inefficient and wasteful. Other suggestions call for the forced merger of wineries with less than 5 million A$ turnover per year. Average vineyard size, currently about 20 ha in Australia, should be more like 80 ha.

Well, small, boutique and artisan vineyards and wine producers have been around for a long long time at least in Europe and North America. Australia has a rather strong concentration in the sector where 4 to 5 big players are in fact calling the shots. Nowhere else in the world do such large wine companies exist.

However, why should we boutique vintners and small wineries loose out this time? Of course not everybody is going to stay in the business, but imagine who should keep the dream up? We not only sell wine, but visions and dreams about the land and the people, about how these people grow grapes and turn them into fine wine.

Just think of a wine factory and industrial production! How can it appeal to people looking for something else than the industrial age has to offer. Technically correct wine is one thing, a vintner on his vineyard is another.

We, the “small” vintners, add value to the lives of all the wine drinkers, the people driving through blooming landscapes planted with small vineyards and vines. The dreams are about freedom and independence, about love and nature, in short, the good life.

Fortunately, the development of modern technology is on our side too. Just read Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” and how the many “fame less” products bought over the internet make more money than the few famous brands. Of course selling wine bottles over the internet is not the same as selling music etc. files but the major advantages of the “Long Tail Economy” (democratisation of production, distribution and marketing, the reduction of storage cost and the cost of information) can still be grasped.


Two Hills vineyard in the evening light

We at Two Hills Vineyard are still optimistic. We have a long-term strategy and are not fuzzed by quarterly profit and loss accounts and share market valuations. We have no debt and Margit and I are in good health. Millions of new wine consumers in India, China, Russia and elsewhere will eventually make their demands known. We only need a tichy tiny share of this to let us fly high.
Cheers, “auf Ihre Gesundheit” as we say in German (to your health)

From North to South

September 28, 2008

Pinot Noir grapes at the Ahr.

It’s vintage time in my native Germany. Reports I am reading about the harvest conditions seem to indicate that everything is going well. Also my German wine blogger colleagues seem to be content.

Down under in Victoria, we have springtime. Spring is usually Victoria’s wettest season. However, weather reports indicate that this September will be one with the lowest precipitation in history of Victoria.

Melbourne recorded only 16 mm of rain in September, the lowest since recording began in 1855. The long-term average is about 59 mm. Also average day temperature was well above the long-term average (19 instaed of 17 degrees celsius) which make September 2008 the warmest September since 2001. The same trend could be observed regarding night temperatures.

Reservoirs around the state are at a record low as well. That’s no good news for vintners and grape growers.

I wonder how full our two dams at Two Hills Vineyard are. So far we had always had sufficient water to bridge the 4-6 weeks of high summer. Last year we had hoped that the draught would be finally broken. That seems not to be the case.

But as always, we hope for a good harvest.

Lake Eildon low on water (only 23% of capacity, 09/2008)

Grape production in China: Turfan – Oasis in the far West

June 7, 2007

Today I want to take my readers on a long trip to the Far East. China is our destination. That wine is produced in China, is “no news”. When we were living in Beijing in the early 1990s, we were very pleased to find Qingdao Huaguan Chardonnay, Great Wall and the Dragonseal reds. Today, shops in the big cities are well stoked with wines from all over the world. Wine consumption is increasing. The internet is full of news and analysis about Chinese wines and wines in China ( I found on the net a lovely 200 pages book manuscript of the late Pieter Eijkloff with the title: “Wine in China – Its history and contemporary development”. There is so much to read about wines in China, incredible.

In 2005 my wife Margit and I, visited the most Western part of China and we stayed a couple of days in Turfan. The main motive was sightseeing and to get to know this part of China which we had never visited before despite the fact that we resided almost six years there. Turfan is a very fertile oasis in the middle of the dessert along the Silk Road. it is located in a depression about 30 m below sea level and the Turfan basin extend to about 50,000 sqkm.

A mosque in Turfan

The pictures below give you an idea under what condition grapes are produced in this region with an extreme climate, very short, but hot summers (up to + 40 Celsius) and very long and ice cold winters (up to -20 Celsius). There is only minimal precipitation, on average about 20 mm per year. When we were there it “rained”. That’s what the local guide told us, otherwise we would not have notices. It was just a bit humid.

A typical vineyard near Turfan in spring

During the winter months the canes are buried in the ground to keep them alive. In spring they dug out and “hung” over various kinds of racks. Because wood is so scarce, we find all kinds of material where the vines are hung up. According to our guide there are many hundreds of different varieties. Unfortunately, our guide was not a grape expert.

Vines in the two-row system

Vines in the one-row system

However, we visited a family and could buy some of their produce. Traditionally they produce raisin not wine. Most Uigurs are Muslim therefore they do not drink alcohol. The grapes are dried in open barns.

A drying barn

Margit buying raisin in the market

In the local supermarkets of Turfan we could get a good overview on what wines were on offer. The sales prices drive tears into the eyes of an Australian primary producer. My vintners heart almost broke. What a pittance of a price for the producer will be left when all the costs of the agents are deducted!

The vines are irrigated with an age old irrigations system, called the Karez system. The water from the surrounding mountains, mostly from melting snow, is brought to Turfan through a sophisticated system of wells and deep channels dug by hand and lined with sheep skins. Thousands of kilometres of underground water channels can be found. From this precious resource mostly vegetables and fruit are grown.

Vines coming from a “central point and hung in squares”

Most meals we had included of some kind of mutton dish. We enjoyed the rustique but delicious cuisine of the Uigurs. After many beers and some “schnaps”, we also tried some of the reds. I do not remember the brands but we loved the drop. Traditional dances were presented and in one location the local invited us to dance to their music to which we joyful obliged. It was a very memorable visit to this most Western part of China and its friendly people in the bubbling markets. Needless to say that I brought back some of the traditional head gear and an lute like instrument.