Tell us a little about you and how did your love of wine start?
I discovered wine as a student – that’s when my horizons really broadened. My wine experiences before then had, I suspect, been fairly typical of many British families in the 1970s. Wine only came out once per week, for Sunday dinner, and never any other time. And it was always big brand Riesling from Germany, marketed under names such as Black Tower and Blue Nun. And it didn’t matter what was on the table – even if it was roast beef, it was still the Black Tower. Clearly, matching food and wine wasn’t seen as an issue. Then, as a student, all of.
Then, as a student, all of a sudden Europe seemed to be on my doorstep. Within a year I was holidaying in Châteauneuf du Pape and getting to know the wine. It was from there that my knowledge and interest grew. In those early days, a lot of what I drank came back in the boot of my car, from the Rhône Valley and later the Loire Valley, another favourite destination
What inspired you to launch Winedoctor
Passion for wine, simple as that. It was the late 1990s and I was just getting to grips with the internet, and it seemed like a good way to express a passion for something. This was in the days before blogs, and there were few individuals writing online about wine, notable figures being Tom Cannavan and Jamie Goode in the UK, Robin Garr in the USA. I figured I would get online and join in. Big names like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, who now run perhaps the largest and most comprehensive sites, had yet to embrace the internet when I launched the first incarnation of Winedoctor in May 2000
What is the goal of Winedoctor?
Initially there wasn’t a goal; it was, at the start, more like a modern-day blog, and I posted brief articles, sometimes informative little pieces on Burgundy vineyards, or reports on wines drunk at home or at one of the two tasting groups I was involved with at the time. It was as much me learning about wine as it was the writing though. Within a year or two, however, I saw there was an opportunity to provide a greater depth of information and detail on the site, and that it could become an information resource rather than just opinion and tasting notes. That was when the evolution of the modern-day Winedoctor began.
How has Winedoctor evolved and where are you taking it to next?
The key point in the evolution was adding profiles to the site. Instead of reams of unaccompanied tasting notes and scores, which is what many sites offer, I decided I would provide much more background detail. To me, wine is more than what is in the glass; there is history and culture behind it. As a consequence I began writing some fairly detailed profiles which have since become valuable reference material for wine drinkers and the wine trade. I started attending the major UK wine trade tastings, such as the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting in London, and then began travelling out to the wine regions themselves. I had always favoured wine regions for holidays (don’t we all?!) but now I began flying out specifically to investigate and report on the wines. With this I also began focusing on just two regions, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, so I could provide more depth and finer detail; I thought by doing so the site would have more value to readers.
A typical annual programme will now see me visit the Loire Valley and Bordeaux two or three times each per annum. So far in 2013 I have already been out to the Loire twice, and to Bordeaux once, and I have other trips to both regions scheduled for later in the year. Visiting the regions is essential if what you write is to have validity, I think.
What would be your top three wine regions around the world and why?
After writing the above, Bordeaux and Loire clearly come first. After that, it’s a difficult choice. I suspect third in my cellar would be Champagne, although in truth I think the region that fascinates me most is Burgundy. It is a beautiful, captivating region imbued with history, and of course it also has a superb vinous reputation. But it is a difficult region to write about with authority I think; true Burgundy geeks will always know more than all but the most dedicated, full-time Burgundy writer.
How would you describe what is happening in the Bordeaux wine market today?
There is no succinct answer to that – but I will do my best! For the Bordelais, they are in a winning situation, and I’m happy for them. After about a century of disadvantage, beginning with phylloxera in the 1870s, through two world wars and the intervening depression, and the onslaught of vineyard diseases such as mildew and oidium, they have had a lot to deal with. By the 1970s and 1980s many châteaux were in need of reinvestment but few owners had the funds to do it. There has since been a shift from family to corporate ownership, bringing the necessary investment, and quality is up as a result. They have had some great vintages, including 2005, 2009 and 2010, and new (wealthy) markets have opened up. China is in love with Bordeaux, and there is yet untapped potential in Brazil; no wonder the prices are at an all-time high.
On the downside, there are huge disadvantages and potential pitfalls. As the Bordelais continue to release vintages of lesser quality, such as 2011 and 2012, at still inflated prices (there were reductions in price from most châteaux, but in general prices still remained well above what they were a few years ago) this puts a huge strain on the négociants who soak up a lot of this unwanted and over-priced stock. With a late harvest expected in 2013, it could be another difficult vintage, and if the Bordelais continue on the same tack this could place further pressure on these négociants.
For consumers, the rising prices make Bordeaux ever-more inaccessible. Although there will always be the wealthy elite who can afford the wines, it saddens me that newcomers to wine will never be able to benchmark their experiences against wines such as Latour, Cheval Blanc and Margaux simply because the prices are so stratospherically high.
What is your prediction about the future of the wine industry?
I’m not qualified to offer any predictions on the wine industry as a whole, but I have a few thoughts that relate to my regions of interest. I think in Bordeaux we will see continued price rises; despite what I have written above, I think a crash is unlikely. It is more likely prices will trend upwards, with occasional corrections. There may be a move to promote previously unexplored regions across Bordeaux, as we all look for better value, e.g. Castillon, although the primary interest for the vast majority of people will remain the exalted cru classé châteaux. It’s unlikely we will see a new region climb to fame in the way Pomerol did in the 20th century.
As for the Loire, I think Muscadet will make a resurgence; there has been a severe contraction in vineyard area in the past few years, and it is now down from around 13 000 ha to about 9 000 ha. The arrival of a cru system will also help; eventually, drinkers will wake up to what tremendous value and variety there is here. Along the Loire, I think we will see improved quality and rising prices for the best wines, but it will continue to remain great value as its diversity tends to confuse those writers who only dip into it from time to time.
Where was your last holiday?
Providing you don’t count a tour of the London galleries last month, when my wife and I took advantage of all our children being away on school trips at the same time to get some culture in without a trio of bored teenagers traipsing along behind us, then it would be last year’s summer holiday. Errr……to Bordeaux.
What is your favourite movie?
I have a feeling I’m supposed to reply with Mondovino or Sideways but in truth it would be Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Entirely free of CGI graphics, explosions, car chases and other Hollywood gimmickry, it is captivating for many reasons, but not least the fact that of all the intertwined stories within it, it is almost impossible to predict how any of them will turn out.
Maybe I should have lied, and said Die Hard?
What do you like to do when you are not thinking about wine?
Paragliding, swimming with sharks, and sword-swallowing.Actually, I’m not sure I have any free time beyond wine, but I’m sure these are the activities I would follow if I did.
What is your favourite wine under €20?
Well, I would say Latour, but I don’t think you can get that for less than €20 these days. It’s impossible to have just one favourite, anyway! But I would go for sparkling Vouvray from Huet, cru communal Muscadet Sèvre et Maine from the likes of Marc Ollivier or Bruno Cormerais, various Castillons from Stéphane Derenoncourt, Stefan von Neipperg and others, affordable left bankers such as Cantemerle, Poujeaux and Chasse-Spleen, and of course there are plenty of Sauternes options in this price range too.