Lawrason’s Take on 2011 and 2012
As 2011 comes to a close WineAlign has begun to approach the numbers I envisioned when I joined with Bryan McCaw and my esteemed wine writing colleagues three years ago. We end the year having had 106,984 unique visitors in December, peaking with a daily record of 7,547 on December 23rd. We are the busiest wine site in Canada not run by a liquor monopoly, and busier than the websites of eight monopolies. Undoubtedly January will bring us back to Earth, and a slower pace of growth – but grow we will, numerically and geographically.
In 2011 I experienced a bit of a career rejuvenation, and it came through extensive travel. I got out of the tasting room more often and became fascinated all over again with wine places and wine people. It happened in seven regions of Australia; at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival; in the southern Rhone and Burgundy where I hosted Canadians touring with Gold Medal Plates; in Niagara where I met global producers at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration; in Prince Edward County where improbable new wineries continue to bloom; in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley while judging the Canadian Wine Awards; in the emerging appellations of Rueda, Toro and Bierzo in northwest Spain; and finally in Argentina with visits to wineries, vineyards and restaurants in Patagonia, Mendoza and Buenos Aires.
Through all this two ideas were reaffirmed – and they have huge implications for where I think wine is headed in 2012 and beyond. One is that the passion for wine among those who make it is now firmly global and mushrooming, and so is the knowhow. People not places create wine quality, and the over-arching implication of the globalization of quality is that no single country or region or appellation owns or deserves quality bragging rights, or price entitlement. Think of the commercial impact when all the world’s wine consumers figure this out too. It will be apocalyptic democratization of the established world order of wine – in fact I think the process is well underway. And those who labour under their own delusions of grandeur, or conversely, those who underestimate their station, will be the ones to suffer the most.
This doesn’t mean however that place is not important, indeed place shapes wine character and makes wine such an individual and changeable commodity. Again and again during my travels I met people whose passion was rooted deep the soil they owned, and cared deeply about how they were expressing that soil, while preserving the environment around it. In Australia’s McLaren Vale I spent a fascinating morning sifting through the amazing complexities of soil science with Rosemount viticulturalist Kim Ayliffe – two hours which have forever changed how I view where wine character comes from.
In a verdant corner of northwest Spain called Bierzo I met a most remarkable was young winemaker named Ricardo Perez of Descendientes de José Palacio, who is who is making wine biodynamically and in the process re-introducing his neighbours to an agrarian way of life they abandoned generations ago. In Patagonia, Argentina, a very wordly European couple – Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano and Danish winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers – have found solace and challenge at Bodega Noemia in the other-wordly remoteness of the desert of the Rio Negro, where they too farm biodynamically. They have made some of the best wines I tasted in 2011. And I predict they will be, and perhaps already are, the models of future generations.
Closer to home, I would love to predict that in 2012 Ontario wine will finally be unshackled from its government’s outdated policies around wine retailing – and that we will finally see independent stores selling 100% Ontario-made wines – not just VQA wines. (I believe VQA needs to be a pure appellation structure that is not tied to financial incentives or disincentives for the producers). At the same time I would also like to see an equal number of private stores selling imported wines – again in a truly democratic fashion. There is mounting political pressure for Ontario’s outmoded alcohol retailing system to change, and it has been proven by Premier McGuinty’s own hand-picked review panel that the LCBO is not the best financial model for the people of Ontario. In other words Ontario would make more money from alcohol revenues without the LCBO. But change will not likely come in the next 12 months because the current regime lacks the will to take on the unionized public service. Still, any incremental movements toward privatization will be welcome.
And finally, for 2012 I predict a tough economic year for wineries everywhere which will be swimming against two tides – global recessionary pressures and huge global competition. Even right here in Ontario one wonders how so many small and mid-sized wineries can compete with each other, but throw in massive new projects that I saw around the world this year and the mind boggles. Of course this does mean a great year ahead for consumers who care about value. Which in turn should mean it will be a great year for those of us whose job it is to taste and write about wine, and sort it all out. I look forward to that task with renewed vigour.
Thanks for all your support in 2011, and stay tuned in 2012.
VP of Wine