Vive la différence On Monday November 18th, in the midst of Sydney’s totally wild weather, which included a mini tornado in Hornsby, I attended a fantastic wine tasting at the Oak Barrel bottle shop in Elizabeth Street, in the middle of the city.
The Oak Barrel is a bottle shop with a significant difference, in that most of the wines and spirits you’ll see in there, you won’t have heard of, be they Australian or imported. Having said that, every single wine that I have either bought from them or tasted there, has been outstanding in one way or another. Many of these wines they import themselves.
The tasting was of the wines from the Courtois family from the Loire Valley in France. Patriarch Claude is a 60+ year old farmer who until recently raised cows, sheep and grew crops, as well as having 10 hectares of vines on his property – a true mixed farm. In the 10 hectares of vines he has 20 different varieties, some of which are ancient French varieties which have just about completely disappeared, as well as Loire approved varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Included in these is the exceptionally rare red variety Gamay Chaudenay of which it is believed that there is a mere two hectares of it left in the world.
Claude and his sons are natural wine makers in every sense of the word. For example their Les Cailloux du Paradis ‘Quartz’ Sauvignon 2009 is a Sauvignon Blanc (SB) that has had no additions, no filtration and was aged in old oak barrels for 24 months. Most New World SB’s at four years old are going or have gone “over the hill” where as this wine is just hitting its straps and will live for a long time to come. It is totally different from any other Sav Blanc I have ever tasted in that it is not sharp and acid, has none of the “normal” SB perfumed aromatics and has fantastic depth of flavour which lingers for absolutely ages.
That is just one example of 11 individualistic and unique wines that we tasted - every single wine received praise from the 18 strong tasting panel and most of us were blown away by the uniqueness and flavours of these awesome wines. The Les Cailloux du Paradis ‘Racines’ Ruoge 2008 is made up of a bit of all 20 varieties that the family grow. However rather than being a “bitza” wine made from leftovers, it is deliberately made and the proportions vary each year so as to produce the best wine possible. The family recommend opening this wine at least 24 hours before you are going to drink it, so as to allow it to open up and evolve to its full potential.
Thus unless you contact the Oak Barrel you will never get the opportunity to taste these truly unique and scrumptious wines, however main point of talking about them is that in a world which is rapidly blurring towards sameness, be it cars or wines, (more and more things look the same as each other) those who do things differently stand out from the crowd and people are prepared to pay a premium to enjoy uniqueness.
A perfect case in point is 919 Wines from Berri in South Australia, whose principal Eric Semmler has just been voted Winestate Magazine’s Australian Winemaker of the Year. Yes Eric makes excellent wines, but so do a lot of other winemakers, the point of difference being that out of 12 wines in the 919 portfolio the only ‘mainstream’ wine is their Shiraz, all the others are either ‘alternative varieties’ or fortified wines. Their alternative varieties such as Touriga taste like an Australian expression of the Portuguese grape, rather than what most Australian winemakers do which is to try to make these alternative varieties the same way they make Cabernet or Shiraz. This strategy makes 919 stand out from the crowd which in turn, along with a smart marketing strategy helps to make them a very successful winery.
Likewise whilst the family Courtois have to battle with the “powers that be” in the tightly controlled wine world of Loire, France - across the world in Sydney everybody who tried their wines was impressed, appreciative and most bought some before leaving the store. There are enough people who are appreciative of quality skill and diversity that their wines sell out each year and are on strict allocation. Vive la différence!!!!
So how unique are your wines? Or are they almost the same as the chap down the road? Do you have the same varieties as your neighbours do or as your region does?
What do you have as a unique selling proposition to make people want your wines?