The Domaine by Lidewij Van Wilgen, pt.2
At the height of her career, Lidewij Van Wilgen gave up her job at Saatchi in Amsterdam to start a new life in the French countryside and become a wine maker, producing the beautiful Mas des Dames. She wrote a book about her experience, Het Domein (The Domaine), which became a best seller in The Netherlands. In this excerpt from Chapter Two, Where I'm From, Lidewij discusses her growing sense of dissatisfaction with her pre-Mas des Dames life in Amsterdam. Read chapter one, First Impressions, now. Two years previously: I am sitting at a large glass desk complete with arty aluminium lamp and mandatory stack of files. I am thirty-two years old, a director of strategy at an advertising agency in Amsterdam, and with eight years of experience almost a veteran in my chosen field. At twenty-five I got married to Adrien, a young copywriter. For our honeymoon Adrien and I decide to hire a yacht in Greece. We set sail from Athens for the island of Hydra and in the days that follow we drop anchor at islands where the only inhabitants are families that look after the local lighthouse or who scrape a living from the sea in their small fishing boats. We navigate our way through fierce storms and fall into bed every night thoroughly exhausted but also with a feeling of intense satisfaction. Every evening we manage to find a ramshackle restaurant where we can eat with our feet in the sand. The menu is the same everywhere. Greek salad. Chicken. Sardines. Swordfish. We drink retsina in the blissful awareness that this is all we will ever need and are ridiculously happy. The shock is enormous when we return to the Netherlands. Was it really this busy when we left? --- Marijn is born in our bedroom on the Westerhout Park and takes her place in our world without fuss or complaint. She has not yet turned two when our second child arrives: Fiene. Effortlessly, I find another bottomless well of love from which to draw and Fiene expends equally little effort in finding her place next to Marijn. I am now a member of the colourful brigade that fills the narrow streets of Haarlem: the army of Trendy Young Mothers. Can life be too perfect? Maslow's hierarchy of needs: when the essentials are fulfilled you will inevitably move on to the next set of needs. Suddenly, there it is again, the restlessness we felt when we came back from our honeymoon. It's like having a ticking clock in the room. You can go for hours without noticing it, but once the sound gets into your head there's simply no getting rid of it. I make friends with a few of the women in the area. They are all very nice but I can't help thinking how alike we all are. We all have a university education, work in the creative industry, have two or three children and drive a Volvo. We drink cappuccino and rosé and discuss our work, our children, our spouses and families – the world is our oyster, and we intend to eat it. A mere two years later I will find myself desperate to have just one of these women living near to me. But right now one thought in particular occupies my mind: my life is not something I have created myself but rather a perfect replica of the lives of everyone else around me. Back in the office I read through my latest assignment for the fourth time. I start planning the campaign. How many strategies can I come up with? Ten? Twelve? I know them all inside out by now and could commit them to paper in my sleep. I find that I am unmoved these days when I receive a compliment at the end of a presentation. It wasn't that difficult, after all. In the meantime, Adrien is having to deal with his own problems at work. In the evenings, when the children are in bed, we draw some small comfort from engaging in conversations along the lines of: ‘What if we decided to do something completely different?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don't know. Move abroad or something, find some space, follow the sun.’ It feels good to entertain these fantasies every now and then. Lots of our friends do the very same thing. It's a kind of hobby for young and spoiled people like us. As Mas des Dames' UK importer, we're publishing a series of excerpts from Lidewij's book. Read chapter three: First Weeks at Mas des Dames now.
What is a Grape Variety?
In this three part series - The Grape Story - we’ll be weighing in on subjects which are the topic of some of the fiercest debates in grape growing and winemaking. The Grape Story Part 1 - What is a Grape Variety? The grape varieties we see on a daily basis are only a small fraction of a much larger and complex family. Biologically, they belong to the Vitaceae Family, of the Genus Vitis, Sub-genus Euvites (the other genus being Muscadinia), Species Vinifera (there are several other species within the same sub-genus). To give some context, there are 79 different accepted species within the Euvites sub-genus and, within the Vitis Vinifera species, exist over 1000 different grape varieties. While this gives the grower plenty of choice when deciding which variety to plant, it can be extremely complicated for many wine drinkers to understand. To make things even more exciting, as with other plants and animals, the grape vine throws up natural mutations over time. These mutations could be subtle, such as tighter bunched grapes, fatter grapes, or smaller, more concentrated grapes, or enormous, as is the case when a red variety suddenly produces a bunch containing white grapes (grapes with no skin pigments). If cuttings were taken from this arm and planted out, a new variety which shares a similar DNA profile with the parent (red) grape, but shows different physiological traits, could begin life. This is indeed how varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy) began life, from a Pinot Noir mutation. Within Pinot Noir itself there are several dozen clones available. A clone is made by taking cuttings from a single original plant; therefore, the clone is genetically identical to its parent plant. For example, the Pinot Noir AM 10/5 clone, which was largely planted out in New Zealand in the 1970’s, was taken from the 5th vine in the 10th row of Anton Meier’s original vineyard in Switzerland. Today, clonal research is carried out by dedicated Universities and research centres, whose name is often given to the clone - Dijon clone 777, 116, 117, and UC Davis Clone 6 and 7, are a few examples. Grape Crosses Research into grape varieties has been going on for as long as man has grown grapes commercially. Riesling has been a German darling for centuries, but it is a notoriously late ripening variety in Germany. However, varieties such as Silvaner ripen relatively early. Could it be that by crossing Silvaner and Riesling, one could produce a variety with Riesling-like characteristics, which ripened earlier like Silvaner? This question gave rise to a whole load of German crosses (a crossing is variety spawn by breeding varieties within the same species). Varieties such as Bacchus (Riesling X Silvaner X Muller-Thurgau) and Muller-Thurgau (Riesling X Madeliene Royale) are both very successful crossings. However, crossings aren’t always successful; just because your mother is athletic and your father is academic, doesn’t mean you’ll grow up to be an athletic-academic. Crossing also certainly happened naturally and DNA profiling has helped to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the ancestry of some ancient varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon for example, has been shown to be an offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, while Chardonnay has been shown to be a descendant of Gouais Blanc. Grape Hybrids Once research into crossings was on its way, it was only a short step to producing hybrids. If a crossing is the product of two varieties belonging to the same species, a hybrid is the product of varieties belonging to two different species. While hybrids generally have an unfairly poor reputation, a successful hybrid such as Vidal Blanc (Ugni Blanc X Seibel 4986) is responsible for some of Canada’s most delicious Ice Wines. All quality wine produced in the E.U must be made from 100% Vitis Vinifera varieties, or from varieties with a special exception. These varieties need to be tested to determine if they have enough Vitis Vinifera in their parentage and have to pass a tasting test; hence hybrid varieties such as Rondo and Regent, which are permitted for making quality wine in England. Other Grape Species On the face of it, other Vitis species such as Berlandieri, Riparia, and Rupestris might seem purposeless, but this couldn’t be further from the truth and modern grape growing wouldn’t be what it is today without these unsung heroes. It is common knowledge that soils differ from region to region and, sometimes, even within the same region. The limestone rich soils of Champagne can prove problematic for grape growing and Champagne vines often suffer from Chlorosis (a yellowing of the leaves due to lack of nutrients - in this case iron, which is locked in the soils due to the high calcium carbonate content). However, Vitis Berlandieri roots can tolerate soils with high lime content and are invaluable for growers in such regions. The Champagne governing body – CIVC – states that 81% of Champagne vines are planted on 41B rootstocks, which are a Berlandieri descendant. The question then is, with such a wide range available, why then is there such a limit to the grape varieties to which we are exposed? I challenge you to name even 20 white grape varieties! Climate, appellation rules and the global wine market all play a part in determining which grape varieties get a slice of the pie. For example, a grower in Marlborough, New Zealand, is more than likely going to be planting some Sauvignon Blanc, because not only are the weather and climate suitable to this variety, but the current market also has an unquenchable thirst for New Zealand Sauvignon. A grower in Bordeaux couldn’t suddenly start planting Pinot Noir (or other, more unusual varieties) as the appellation rules do not permit the use of non-traditional Bordeaux grapes, even for the most basic Bordeaux category – Bordeaux A.C. In the wake of Phylloxera, the vine disease which swept through Europe in the 19th century, the Italians estimate that several hundred different indigenous grape varieties were lost as growers switched to higher yielding cultivars. In conclusion, the grape family is a complex and fascinating one, with enough twists, turns, revelations and intrigues to make even George R.R. Martin hang his head in disbelief. Here are a few unusual grape varieties for the adventurous: Whites: Assyrtiko Grüner Veltliner Moschofilero Savagnin Reds: Callet Trousseau Valdiguié Xinomavro Zweigelt Read part 2 of the series: what is terroir?
IWC Wine Merchant of the Year Awards Dinner
Simon gives his take on the IWC Wine Merchant of the Year Awards dinner: Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the 2017 IWC Wine Merchant of the Year awards at London’s Hilton, Park Lane. With multiple awards won at both the IWC and Decanter Wine Awards over the last decade, many Roberson staff members are old hands at the wine award-winning business. But I, as a comparative newbie, was excited to be attending my first wine industry awards show – especially since my team was up for one of the major awards of the night – Online Retailer of the Year. The first challenge of attending was getting properly dressed; my attendance of functions requiring black tie has been pretty minimal since a rash of 21st birthday parties several decades ago. I wasn’t overly confident that my dinner suit, acquired around the same time for $35 US Dollars and constructed overnight of the finest nylon in Hoi An, Vietnam, would still be up to the job. Luckily, my wife had the foresight to persuade me to pick up a new dinner suit at the same time as buying a suit for my wedding a few years ago – and, after a bit of a dry clean, it proved to be in more than serviceable condition. So, appropriately attired and looking forward to getting a little moist around the collar on the Piccadilly Line, we set off to Park Lane, arriving just in time to glug a refreshing glass of Champagne and watch the first raft of specialist merchant awards being announced. Roberson Wine had won the IWC Specialist Merchant of the Year USA award for the previous 4 years. While we were nominated again this year, it was felt that the IWC might give someone else the nod, just to spread it around a little. As it turned out, this fear was unrealised, as the eminent judges of the International Wine Challenge sagely saw fit to give us the award again this year – for the fifth year in a row – and up onto the stage we went to collect our winnings. Once the applause died down and I had the chance to catch my breath, I was able to have a bit more of a look around the event – and, as well as bumping into London Cru winemaker Gavin Monery, I was extremely impressed by the size and slick organisation of the show. With a multitude of bars pouring a host of this year’s IWC Platinum Award-winning wines, a seated dinner for about 500 and a spectacular stage and screen awards presentation, it wasn’t hard to see why the gent sitting next to me at dinner described the event as “the biggest night of the year.” Finally the big moment for me personally arrived – the Online Retailer of the Year award, in which we were nominated for the first time, but up against two massively larger rivals. To cut a long story short, we didn’t win – but out of the 43 award categories, we were one of only 6 entries to be given a “Highly Commended” trophy, so we felt some justification in feeling rather pleased with ourselves. All in all, a fantastic evening – and looking forward to finding as many ways as possible to make our online service even better over the course of the next year – and picking up first prize next time.
IWC Awards 2017 - The Results Are In
In 2013 we opened our doors to the new wave USA movement and in 4 years, we have established a reputation as one of the foremost importers of USA wines into the UK. Today we offer 270 different USA wines and represent 31 USA wine producers. So it's an honour to be named winner of the International Wine Challenge Specialist Merchant of the Year in the USA category, for the 5th year running. Each year we make a clear commitment to sourcing wines from exciting new producers, many of whom practice sustainable methods of farming, but above all, make truly exceptional wines. We would not be here if it were not for our continuous search for innovation and quality, challenging stereotypes and really believing in the quality of what we do and the people who we work with to make it happen. We are known for championing small producers with big stories and the beauty of winning this award is that our producers get the recognition that they deserve.
Anna Von Bertele
The Life of a Grape
Anna imagines the life of a grape in the Hedges Family Estate vineyard: Part 1 From my spot in Hedges Family Estate’s vineyard, high up here on the mountain in Washington State, I can see the pickers already busy at work, racing through the vines, choosing the best of us. It’s been a long hot summer, so we’re ready earlier than usual, but I'm feeling pretty good – the cool evenings are always so refreshing to balance out my sugars and stop me feeling too bloated. Some of my neighbours have already been chosen; up on Red Mountain we take a bit longer. My Chardonnay friends in Yakima Valley in south-central Washington were picked last week, as their winemakers wanted to keep freshness and not over-ripen those grapes, to maintain the balance of acidity with alcohol levels. They say my Red Mountain appellation is included in the Yakima Valley AVA, but we know we're special here. It was Christophe Hedges' father, Tom, who mapped out our special plot in 2001. It's the most special place with the best views all around; I'm so glad I'm going to be a Hedges wine. We're the smallest appellation in Washington State at 1630 hectares and the warm temperatures here are perfect conditions for us to make full bodied, complex wine. The breeze from the nearby Yakima River helps cool us down too, so we don't taste too tannic. Our soils are pretty great - sandy loam and gravel with a rich calcium carbonate content. I shouldn't boast about my conditions though - the whole state is pretty special really. It all started with the Missoula Floods. These happened about 13,000 years ago, but people still go on about them. Apparently floods the size of Lake Michigan discharged into eastern Washington, submerging all land up to 1200 feet above sea level. They bought sediments, sand and silt, which were deposited across the region, enriching our land and making irrigation simple because water can move easily, but not too rapidly, through the soil. It is all down to these ecological events that I grow so healthy and strong today. As a Cabernet Sauvignon grape, I'm Washington State's most produced red variety, though the state's not defined by one grape. My most common friends are Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling. I know I'm a popular one though - delicious on my own or in blends. I've heard about my European cousins, how famous we are in a place called Bordeaux. They say our winemakers are inspired by this place and make the same style blends. But I hear that in Bordeaux the best ones are incredibly expensive - here we're actually very affordable and offer high quality and value. I'm already thinking about my final destination; I fancy being poured at a London restaurant. And rumour has it this is a possibility… a company called Roberson Wine apparently likes our wines and distributes them around the UK. I don't believe it, I was daydreaming and didn't realise he’s approaching me…. It's finally happening, I’ve been chosen! Part 2 to follow
Wine Tasting in London at Love Europe
Great to see so many of you at our Love Europe Wine Tasting at Winerama - Shoreditch last Thursday. It was also a pleasure to see many of our good friends at the tasting from Caprice Holdings - Annabel’s, Hawksmoor and the buying team from the Goodman group, D&D and Swig Wines to name but a few. For us, it was a full Roberson Wine team outing with all hands on deck; On-Trade, Off-Trade and Fine Wine teams coming together to pour some of our favourite wines from our European wine portfolio, under the open roof of Winerama’s East London skyline. The Love Europe wine tasting was also a great reminder of the core essence of Roberson Wine. Cliff Roberson opened his London wine shop in Kensington High Street 26 years ago with the idea of offering the classic wines of Europe in a fresh and innovative way – and the line-up of wines at the tasting showed that today, the vision remains just as strong. Wine on Tap and London Cru were the first things that people saw when they entered the wine tasting, followed by a handpicked, eclectic range of wines from our small producers with big stories, many of whom practice organic and biodynamic winemaking methods. A particular highlight was having the Dosnon Champagne makers, Nicolas and Davy, host a table at the tasting, where they cracked a very special bottle of their vintage 2008 - 1 of only 1080 bottles made. For the evening part of the event, we opened our doors to the public, with some familiar faces from our wine club, who were given first access to tickets, and the remaining contingent made up of London Street Feast regulars, for many of whom this was their first wine tasting. It was refreshing to speak to so many new young wine enthusiasts at the tasting and, what’s more, to discover people’s favourite wine of the evening via their votes placed in our ballot box. Those who entered their vote also had the chance to win a case of their favourite wine, with the lucky winner announced earlier in the week. So here we have it, the top 3 wines at the tasting from our consumer list: 1. Jean - Paul Thévenet 'On Pète la Soif!' 2015 2. J Laurens Crémant de Limoux 'Les Graimenous Brut' 2015 3. Bric Cenciurio Barbera d'Alba 2016 Due to popular demand, we have decided to host a follow-up wine tasting: Love Europe Round 2 - West-Side, on the 3rd August in our winery downstairs - London Cru. Nestled amongst the barrels and tanks of London's first winery, you will get to taste the same 20 wines, all of which can be purchased for less than £20. Again, tickets are limited so get yours quickly and come west-side for more wine fun! Until then, thank you and à bientôt! Love from RW and LDN CRU
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