Annabel Jackson has been co-writing this column for three years but she now needs to say farewell. For publication in week starting 15 August 2016.
How packed these past three years have been. Keeping up with world wine happenings is a thrilling challenge. The government-backed rise of China’s Ningxia region has been extraordinary, and the wine community there has a really international feel to it. Meanwhile, a revolution has been happening in Chile away from copycat, commercial wines to some amazing expressions of indigenous grapes in extreme growing areas (from deserts to conditions where winemakers must deal with severe frosts).
Things have been up and down in Bordeaux – a bit more down than up, though the new museum in the city is said to be fantastic – while Portugal has been on an amazing ascendant with its white, as well as red, table wines. Sales of Prosecco and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc have continued on an upward trajectory. Everyone now knows that Georgia makes wine, and excellent wine at that. And Spain is making blue wine – cleverly coloured with a natural pigment found in the skin of red grapes.
But the time has come to bow out from writing this column. I’m now based in the United Kingdom, and have just started a full-time job lecturing in wine business at England’s Plumpton Agricultural College. It is situated in the shadows of the rolling South Downs in the county of Sussex, where some of the best English vineyards are also located. (The county of Hampshire is the other hot spot).
This academic position puts me at the epicentre of the truly dynamic English wine industry. Indeed, the College makes very good wine (The Dean white and rose sparkling, for example) and my office is just across the way from the barrel cellar. Plumpton is the only college in Europe offering undergraduate degrees in oenology in English, and I think that even faculty themselves are surprised that this course is in such high demand, and is now attracting students from far and wide. It is being spoken of in the same category as the world’s top wine colleges: Roseworthy at the University of South Australia and University of California at Davis in the United States.
I am sure I will be back with the odd “guest column” – after all, I will be thinking about wine 24/7 and tasting every week – but I will have less time and opportunity to visit wine regions, to help bring atmosphere and colour to my writing.
Visits to wine regions and vineyards are excellent for helping wine lovers understand wine, and why this particular bottle is so different from that one. We can talk about diurnal temperature ranges but to be in the Douro’s Corgo Baixa sub-region, in July, wishing one had a thick sweater at breakfast, only to be nearly overheating in a T-shirt by lunchtime, is such a powerful, visceral experience. You feel you know what the grapes are going through.
You’re travelling across Normandy and you come across a wine estate in this region of cheese and cider; you literally have to be there to make that discovery. Or to be in a village where we learn that while we think of Chablis as being planted with 100 per cent Chardonnay, there’s a little area called St Brise where Sauvignon Blanc thrives.
Wine travel can offer some magical moments. Some years ago, I was attending the wine fair ProChile in Santiago, and was unexpectedly invited to spend the weekend in Mendoza. Flying over the Andes, the views from my window seat were the most beautiful I have ever experienced on a flight. I was picked up from the airport by winemaker Carlos, and he delivered me to Bodegas Norton, where he worked.
The Swarovski family own this estate. There, on the manicured lawn, sat their family friend and fellow Austrian Georg Riedel, sipping Argentinean sparkling – from a glass he’d designed. I’d met him before, as one of his compelling “glass and water tastings” in Hong Kong, but never in such a lovely, informal way as this.
And a confession to end this column: From my base in picturesque Beaune, I took a wonderful biking trip across Burgundy, stocking the pannier with local cheese and baguette for daily picnics. You can feel the temperature changes across one slope to the other, witness the meso-climates and the shifting breezes, and note changing soil colour and soil type as you peddle along.
You enjoy the villages of Mersault, Puligny and Chassagne Montrachet; but wish you’d avoided Nuits-St-Georges, which is more suited for car journeys. Now to that confession. I cycled past Domaine Romanee Conti – and paused to pick one of the world’s most expensive grapes. But I only ate one, honestly. Goodbye for now.