It has become fashionable for businesses to have “values”: a published framework of standards to define and reinforce the business’ culture. ( I know, I’m relapsing into HR doublespeak. Don’t shoot me. Malolactic fermentation. Chaptalisation. Organoleptic. And I’m back in the room.) At my old law firm, our values were “Clients, Environment, People and Community”. (They always had capital letters.)
After conducting numerous “employee engagement” sessions attempting to impress upon bored trainees the importance of these values, I left the firm, breathing a sigh of relief that I had put them values behind me. However, when Jeff announced that the Sybarite, winner of last month’s challenge, had chosen “values” as the theme for this month’s challenge, they kept coming back to haunt me, my brain firing links to wine.
I suppose that the relevance of clients depends on which aspect of wine we’re talking about. You could argue that valuing clients means giving them what they want. But if what the customer wants is sickly white Zinfandel or bland Pinot Grigio, is it good customer service to give them what they want, or is it better for the client to provide a better alternative? A thorny moral dilemma.
In the UK, 81% of wine is sold in supermarkets, much of it on “special” offer. A lot of people choose their wine based on which is discounted the most, therefore appearing better “value”. However, wine journalists have pointed out that the wine is often sold at a grossly inflated price for a few weeks beforehand, then reduced to a fair price for the bottle. The average bottle price is £5.11 (about US$ 8.70). £2.64 of that is tax, so, after deducting overheads, the value of the wine in the bottle is about 5p, or 1% of the price. Is that good value?
In restaurants, what good client service must mean is providing a good choice of wines at a fair price, plus waiters with sufficient knowledge of the menu and wine list to provide helpful advice. My friends in the USA, while I think that this is what you expect, it’s surprisingly rare in the UK. Better still, BYO with a small corkage charge.
While English wine-lovers (especially lovers of English wine) are well aware of the dangers of global warming, the flipside is that it’s doing wonders for English winemaking. Grapes can now actually ripen in our green and pleasant land, rather than remaining unripe and sour.
In the rest of the world, the importance of the environment in which grapes are grown, or the terroir if you will, is one of the things that’s most fascinating about wine. How can it taste so different depending on where it’s grown?
Which leads us on to my fascination with biodynamics and how the grapes are grown. Despite sounding like modern day witchcraft, everyone seems to agree that it produces great wines. Also see People (below).
One of the things I love most about wine is the characters who make it, sell it, write about it, or otherwise play a part in the industry. A few of my wine heroes:
I’ve written before about my enormous admiration for Miljenko Grgić, better known as Mike Grgich. A Croatian refugee escaping from dictatorship in the former Yugoslavia, waiting patiently and living in poverty for years, inching closer to his promised land of California’s wine country. When he finally made it to Napa, he still had to bide his time, working in menial jobs, until he made his name as the chief winemaker at Chateau Montelena, the man behind the Chardonnay that won the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. He is now 91 and still lives in his “paradise” of California. I am so happy that he has been blessed with such a long life to enjoy the rewards that he worked so hard to earn.
Talking of the Judgment of Paris, another of my favourite wine characters is Steven Spurrier, the man who organised the event. For me, he is the epitome of the English upper-class gentleman. How can you not love a man who describes his discovery of wine thus? “On Christmas Eve, 1954 – my first Christmas in long trousers – my grandfather told the butler: ‘Give the boy a glass of port.’ It was Cockburn’s 1908, and it was a Damascene conversion at the age of 13.”
Next, Emmanuel Giboulot, the biodynamic winemaker from Beaune, who was recently fined, but escaped prison, for refusing to spray his vines against flavescence doree. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the science behind his prosecution, I have a huge amount of respect for a man who stands up to French bureaucracy to defend the honour of his biodynamic vineyard.
Finally, I must pay tribute to Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, better known as la Veuve Clicquot. At a time when women were expected to be wives and mothers, not run an international business, and when the wine industry was dominated almost entirely by men (oh wait – it still is! Perhaps less so than in Barbe-Nicole’s jour…), she revolutionised the Champagne business, establishing the product in its luxury status, and is even credited with inventing remuage. My wine heroine.
While I love the great personalities who put the wine in our glass, perhaps my favourite wine value is community. Sharing a bottle of good wine with good friends is one of the greatest pleasures in life. An interest in wine also has the power to extend your community: going to tastings and exchanging opinions with fellow tasters is a great way to meet like-minded people. Participating in a monthly wine writing challenge enables you to make new friends around the world, whom you would never have met if it hadn’t been for a shared passion for wine.
Let’s raise a glass to wine and the values that we wine-lovers share.