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Bumper year for English wine.

English wine enjoyed a bumper year in 2016, and it is now £130m industry, a new study shows.

Independent English wine producers saw their turnover rise to a record £132 million last year, a 16 per cent increase on 2015, showing that the industry has enjoyed major growth in recent years, according to Funding Options.

Research by the online business finance firm revealed that wine producers are benefiting from the growing popularity of boutique British alcohol production, including gin and craft beer as well as wine.

Conrad Ford, founder of Funding Options, said: "English wine is going from strength to strength.

"The English wine industry is not only gaining traction amongst domestic consumers, but is now being ranked with wines from traditional white wine-producing countries such as France and Germany."

In May, a wine from Norfolk was named as the best white wine in the world at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Winbirri Vineyards' Bacchus 2015, which sells for £13.95 a bottle, beat off 17,200 other entries to win the Platinum Best in Show, and was given a score of 95 out of 100 by a panel of 200 international experts.

Winbirri is a family-run vineyard, beside Norfolk Broads National Park, that was established in 2007.

At the time, Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “It comes as no surprise to us that an English Bacchus wine has won a major international award. Up until now English Sparkling Wine has been grabbing most of the headlines for its outstanding quality.

"It was only a matter of time before an English still wine showed the world it can also compete with the best.

"The UK climate is ideal for growing the Bacchus grape which is why it has become the favoured grape grown in the majority of UK vineyards making still white wine.

"We believe Bacchus has the potential to do for English wine production what Sauvignon Blanc did for New Zealand.”

MAN AWARDED $750K AFTER BEER BURNS INTERNAL ORGANS

Talk about a dodgy pint!

A US man has been awarded $750,000 after a beer tainted with caustic chemicals burned his internal organs nearly killing him.

Richard Washart, a former Ocean City police lieutenant, was at a McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant in Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City in 2012 when the indicent happened.

As reported by Fortune.com, Washart had taken one gulp of the beer and immediately felt a burning pain in his throat. He vomited six times, and was unable to even drink water because of the pain. He suffered severe burns to the oesophagus and stomach, and was hospitalised for six days.

It was later confirmed that the beer Washart consumed was tainted with a caustic agent that is normally used to clean the beer tap lines.

This week, a jury ruled in his favour, awarding him $650,000 for pain and suffering and $100,000 for emotional distress.

McCormick & Schmick’s had blamed its beer lines cleaner, Kramer Beverage Co., of Hammonton who was responsible for cleaning the pipes. Kramer Beverage denied being at the restaurant when Washart drank the beer, but was still ordered to pay half the award along with McCormick & Schmick’s.

The restaurant’s parent company, Landry’s Inc., has said it will appeal the ruling.

New Jersey museum discovers 220 year old wine bought to celebrate 2nd US president’s inauguration

From The Independent

A museum in New Jersey has discovered several cases of wine from 1796 that are believed to have been shipped over to celebrate John Adam’s presidency.

The Madeiracollection was discovered in Liberty Hall Museum during an extensive renovation to allow visitors to explore different eras of American history. Part of the renovation work included updating the building’s wine cellars – and it turns out the wine collection is slightly more interesting than curators had previously realised.

"We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it, said" Liberty Hall President John Kean. "I think the most exciting part of it was to find liquor, or Madeira in this case, that goes back so far. And then trying to trace why it was here and who owned it."

While the museum has always known that there were old wines in its collection, it wasn’t until each bottle was catalogued that experts found that several cases of Madeira wine were hundreds of years old, and were likely shipped over from Portugal to toast the second President of the US.

Researchers based this assumption on the date of the wine and the fact that Madeira was a drink reserved for the top brass – it was chosen by the wealthy due to the fact it didn’t lose its flavour while crossing the Atlantic. Bill Schroh Jr., director of operations at Liberty Hall, said: "So you could open some of these bottles, and it might be perfect."

The wine racks in the cellar were enclosed when Schroh started working at the museum 20 years ago – he said this was probably done by the Kean family during Prohibition to protect the collection. The museum has now removed the extra wall so that visitors can see the wines on display.

When the museum announced the discovery of the collection, it was contacted by The Rare Wine Co., a premier wine merchant based in California, which tested the Madeira and confirmed its age. Museum staff also decided to try some of the centuries-old wine. They filled a decanter with Madeira from one of the original casks, which tasted similar to sweet sherry wine according to those who tried it.

The Madeira collection is believed to be the biggest in the US and one of the largest in the world.

French harvest set for historic low after frost hits.

From Decanter Magazine

Production from France’s 2017 wine harvest may fall by 17 percent to between 37 million hectolitres (4.9bn bottles) and 38.2 million hectolitres, versus 45.5 million in 2016, the country’s ministry of agriculture said.

Frostand hail are largely to blame.

 This would be a ‘historic low’, said the ministry – 16% lower than the five-year average and worse than 1991, a vintage also hit hard by frost.

Such a drop could mean that wines from some areas become harder to find, and so more expensive. It is the second successive year that frost has struck hard in some areas.

Bordeaux 2017 production could be ‘strongly impacted’ by spring frosts with a 50% fall in production versus 2016, said the report. The Right Bank was hit harder. Many top estates had the resources to employ frost avoidance techniques, even flying helicopters over vines to circulate the air.

However, flowering went well. ‘Vines are two or three weeks ahead versus the average growing season,’ said Thomas Duclos, of Oenoteam in Libourne, on the Right Bank.

Veraison [ripening] started at the beginning of July,’ said Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen, winemaker of Château Pédesclaud in Pauillac. ‘Everything looks good.’

 The Champagne harvest was expected to rise by 8 percent in 2017, but still 9 percent below the 2012-2016 average. The growing season was running 10 days ahead of 2016.

In Burgundy and Beaujolais, a good flowering period means production will rise by 14 percent versus a small 2016 crop, official said

In Alsace, frost means 30% lower production than in 2016, with early budding variety Gewurztraminer hit hardest.

At flowering, there was ‘a lot of coulure [poor fruit set] among Riesling grapes’, Celine Meyer, CEO of Domaine Josmeyer, told Decanter.com. ‘Pinot Gris are perfect for the moment,’ she added, but there was concern at low water levels.

 In Languedoc-Roussillon, severe frost affected both the Aude and Hérault areas. Production is set to fall by 6%.

Coulure has been a particular problem for Grenache in Languedoc and also in Provence and the Southern Rhône Valley, which have also had problems with powdery mildew.

In the Loire, frost has cut production by 10% to 40% in some places. But, overall, the region’s growers are set to pick 15 days earlier than average and production will rise by 7 percent versus 2016, which was also hit by frost.

Hot early summer weather means that the growing season across France was running between 10 and 20 days ahead of normal, which may help surviving grapes to ripen fully.

 

Fake fine wine trader jailed after £100K scam!

Lasse Hartmann has been sentenced to four years in prison for masterminding a £100,000 scam in which he pretended to be a multi-millionaire businessman trading in fine wine and Champagne.

Hartmann, 44 and a Danish national, sold wine investment packages and used the money to fund his expensive lifestyle. Following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Fraud and Linked Crime Online unit, it was revealed that 20 people had fallen victim to the fraudster.

Commenting on the case, PC Alex Ramsay of the Met’s Falcon Unit who investigated the scam, said: “Hartmann is a professional conman and fraudster. He didn’t care about the people he was hurting, either financially or emotionally. He exploited everyone around him, not least the woman who thought that she was going to marry him.”

“He used her status as a respected food blogger to give him credibility and from there managed to convince a number of businesses to go into partnership with him. He never had any intention of delivering his side of the bargain and simply used their money to fund his lavish lifestyle and gambling habit.”

“Hartmann is now facing the very real prospect of time in prison, which reflects the devastation and misery he has caused to such a large number of victims”.

Hartmann’s victims lost more than £104,000 and many are still out of pocket. Hartmann paid back a total of £18,000 after realising the police were investigating him.

The scam started in January 2014 when Hartmann began an online relationship with a woman from Ilford. Using the alias Lars Petraeus, he convinced the woman that he was a wealthy businessman trading in fine wine. Winning her trust, he convinced the woman to loan him several thousand pounds citing cash-flow problems, while also taking control of two inactive bank accounts in the woman’s name.

The woman was an influential food blogger who provided Hartmann with contacts in the food industry that he also went on to exploit, promising and failing to deliver wine and Champagne to them.

An online meat trader was also conned by Hartmann after he invested with the fraudster in the belief that he was expanding his business into the wine trade. He purchased wine, fridges and IT equipment from Hartmann that never arrived and his business lost a total of almost £20,000.

Through his association with this other businesses, Hartmann contacted the staff of partner companies, offering wine investment packages priced at £240 and above, receiving a total of £11,000 from unsuspecting individuals.

He hired a personal assistant and chauffeur to give him further legitimacy, however, he left them both with unpaid wages totalling £25,000 as well as convincing his driver to invest £2,500 in wine.

Hartmann also duped a chef out of £3,500 and a wedding planner, who invested £5,500 in a wine package and whose business lost £25,000 in revenue, after being involved in organising Hartmann’s bogus wedding.

In April this year, Hartmann was convicted of 22 counts of fraud and on 19 July, at Snaresbrook Crown Court, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment.

After completion of his sentence, Hartmann will return to Denmark as he is wanted by Danish authorities ‘for breaching the terms of his sentence there,’ having been earlier convicted of similar fraudulent offences in the country.

Most Brits still know little about choosing wine

From the article published in Harpers.

New research from Asda has shown the extent of consumers’ mystification around wine, with over a third of UK drinkers sticking to the same bottle of wine every time they shop.

It’s a well-known fact that the wine mainstays have remained the same for well over a decade, with consumers repeatedly filling up their baskets with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay on trips to the supermarket.

But a new study by Asda has highlighted the gap between how far Brits are willing to explore in the food aisles and how that has yet to translate to wine.

Some of the report’s key findings include the statistic that 15% of consumers spend less than 10 seconds picking a bottle as ‘wine fright’ sets in and they become overwhelmed by the amount of choice available.

42% said they find wine jargon confusing and misunderstand commonly used terms, while a third (37%) of UK drinkers admitted to buying the same bottle of wine and never trying anything new.

Over one fifth of those surveyed (22%) said they can find the vast amount of wine to choose from intimidating and don’t know where to start when it comes to picking a new bottle.

Perhaps most concerning, is that two fifths (39%) of Brits cannot name any wine varieties, and a further 17% think there are only three grape varieties: red, white and rosé.

Habitual shopping patterns have led Asda to dub one of their wine experts, Ed Betts, a “sommeasier” – making him the face of the supermarket’s efforts to make wine more accessible to "bamboozled" British consumers.

As part of this new push, Asda also putting together The Sommeasier Guide to help furnish consumers with confidence and knowledge to explore.

A keen advocate of taking the simple approach when it comes to marketing wine to consumers, is Copestick Murray MD Robin Copestick.

In 2010, Copestick launched its successful I heart range and since then, the range has had considerable success with its a varietal-led approach.

While Asda’s report found that 39% of Brits find it difficult to name even one grape variety, we know that British consumers often shop by varieties that they are familiar with and find the prospect of hunting for alternatives hugely overwhelming.

“In such a competitive and challenging market it’s not surprising that consumers feel nervous about stepping outside of their comfort zone,” said Copestick.

“In order to grow the industry, we need to make it easy for audiences to learn about the different varieties of wine available.

“Consumers need to feel inspired and confident about trying something new through a varied range, at a reasonable price which clearly communicates tasting notes alongside pairing suggestions.”

UK Wine Fraudsters Jailed

Two men who ripped off elderly investors end up as guests of Her Majesty. 

Two men swindled wine lovers out of almost $500,000 by promising to invest in Bordeaux – but the only wines the men bought were the ones they drank themselves.

Thomas Hole, aged 31, of London, was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment and 25-year-old Ryan Fraser, from Essex, was sentenced to a total of three years and four months' imprisonment at Southwark Crown Court last week.

Hole was convicted by majority jury of one count of conspiracy to defraud following a four-week trial. Fraser pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud at a previous court hearing last year and pleaded guilty to a further count of conspiracy to defraud on the first day of his trial in January.

Both men were also disqualified from being company directors for 10 years. Two other defendants who stood trial were acquitted on counts of conspiracy to defraud.

The scam involved a company, Premier Wine Investment Limited, which offered investment in fine wine, particularly Bordeaux. Victims were cold-called and persuaded to invest. They were told that they should leave their investments to grow in value over a number of years, which most investors did, allowing the defendants to use the money without being immediately detected. Investors stumped up £362,000 ($451,000) in total.

To overcome the suspicions of their bank, a new company with an almost-identical name was set up. The formation of Premier Wines Investment Limited in June 2012, allowed the offenders to continue to convince victims to pay their money in to a new separate account with a different bank, allowing them to continue their criminal activity.

The police investigation identified 13 victims, most of whom were approaching or at retirement age.

The victims had no idea that, instead of the company purchasing fine wine for them, the money was being used by the defendants on payments to their own bank accounts, was withdrawn in cash, was used on expensive overseas travel, on spa days, bespoke tailoring and on meals at restaurants. The only money which was spent on wine was the wine that the defendants purchased and consumed themselves.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Steve Conroy, of Thames Valley Police's Economic Crime Unit, said: "Thomas Hole and Ryan Fraser preyed upon the naivete and vulnerability of potential investors when they defrauded the victims in this case. This was a crime motivated by their greed, which resulted in them taking thousands of pounds of other people's retirement money and savings for themselves. Their contempt for the victims, who were mainly retired or elderly, showed they had no thought for the impact on their lives or the hardship they caused as a result."

Champagne shipments drop 2% to 306.6 million bottles.

According to the estimates released by the Comité Champagne on Monday this week, Champagne shipments worldwide, including the French market, fell by 6 million bottles in the past 12 months compared to the same period in 2015, when the region shipped a total of 312.5m bottles.

Indeed, the final figure of 306.6m for 2016 means that Champagne sales have now dropped back below 2014’s total, which amounted to 307.1m bottles, taking the region even further from its record, which was achieved ten years ago in 2007, when it shipped almost 338.8m bottles (see figures below).

Explaining the fall in the number of bottles shipped in 2016, Jean-Marie Barillère, who is president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, told db yesterday that the decline was a result of falling sales in the French and British markets in particular.

“The total decrease has been done by France and England,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barillère recorded that Champagne shipments to the UK alone had fallen by around 3m bottles, in contrast to other European nations such as Spain and Italy, which, he said, had enjoyed increases, meaning that the EU (excluding France) accounted for 77.5m bottles in 2016, down from 80.2m in 2015.

Outside its domestic market and Europe, Champagne did enjoy growth in 2016, but with a modest 0.5% increase, this represented an extra 600,000 bottles from 70.3m in 2015 to 70.9m last year.

Although the figures for value have yet to be released, Barillère said that the total would be down by 1-2% due to exchange rates, although he stressed that 2017 would be Champagne’s second highest ever year for turnover,  having set a new record in 2016, when it reached €4.75 billion.

Indeed, if the drop was the full 2%, a total of €4.65bn for 2016 would still surpass the previous record set in 2007, when sales reached €4.56bn prior to the global financial slowdown.

The decline in shipments for 2016 has surprised some in the region, particularly as the yields set in June last year for the 2016 harvest were designed to deliver a production of 315m bottles, slightly higher than the shipment total for 2015.

Usually the yields are set to bring about a supply of Champagne that is similar if not a bit higher than the current demand.

Explaining why the yields were set to produce 315m bottles, Michel Letter, managing director of Mumm and Perrier Jouët, told db that the global market for Champagne was looking more promising in May and June last year when the yields were set*, adding that the French and UK markets had declined more than expected, while the US had not risen as much as many in Champagne had initially thought.

Summing up, he admitted, “We were a bit optimistic”.

* The yield for the 2016 harvest was set in June at 9,700 kilos per hectare with a further 1,100kg/ha to be taken from the reserve at the start of February. This produces approximately 283m bottles from the harvest with a further 32m bottles coming from the reserve, making a total production of 315m bottles.

**From the article first published in Drinks Business**

CLEGG WARNS OF ‘CRIPPLING’ RISES IN WINE PRICES POST BREXIT

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has warned that consumers face “crippling” rises in wine prices if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal.

As reported by The Mirror, Clegg warned that the war with Tesco and Unilever over the price of Marmite last week was just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Clegg is due to publish a report warning that crippling trade tariffs could see the price of wine rise by up to 14% if we leave the Single Market.

And it’s not only wine lovers who are set to be affected by Brexit – the price of exported beef could rise by 59%, cheese by 40% and chocolate by 38%.

“A hard Brexit will lead us off a cliff edge towards higher food prices, with a triple whammy of punishing tariffs, customs checks and workforce shortages,” Clegg said.

“The only way the government will be able to avoid this outcome is if it maintains Britain’s membership of the Single Market.

“We must hold Theresa May’s government to account and fight to ensure what comes next is best for British consumers and businesses,” he added.

Clegg, the new EU spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, has warmed that if the government doesn’t secure a new trade agreement with the EU within two years then tariffs will automatically be imposed as soon as we leave the trading bloc.

Last week, the British Retail Consortium warned the government that failure to strike a good Brexit deal by 2019 could impact retailers and customers disproportionately if the UK has to fall back on WTO rules.

Chinese wine-tasters scoop surprise win in France!

Chinese wine-tasters have won a taste test in France, in what organisers call "a thunderbolt in the wine world".

They came first out of 21 teams by identifying details of six white wines and six red wines without seeing the bottle or label.

The French team came second and the US team came third, while former champions Spain slipped into 10th place and the UK only managed 11th.

The Chinese competitors put their success down to knowledge and luck.

But they did say competition was fierce to get on the team.

Will China ever be a wine superpower?

China's wine industry has grown in recent years as the country has begun to devote an increasing amount of its land to vineyards. Last year it had 799,000 hectares (1.97 million) of land dedicated to growing grapes, second only to Spain worldwide.

In 2011, a Chinese winery beat a host of French rivals to collect an international gold medal for one of its wines.

The Chinese team that competed on Saturday at the Chateau du Galoupet, one of France's biggest wine estates, included Liu Chunxia, ​​Tze Chien Chen, Xi Chen, Xianchen Ma and coach Alexander Brice Leboucq.

Their surprise win saw them perform best at identifying the 12 wines' countries of origin, grape varieties, vintages, producers and appellation (geographical areas).

Organisers from the French specialist magazine  La Revue du vin de France wrote: that the "astounding Chinese team" were "humble even in victory".

They "conceded that in blind tasting, 50% is knowledge and 50% is luck," the magazine continued.

110-year-old woman says whisky is the secret to long life

Grace Jones, who goes by the name Amazing Grace among her friends, is now the 10th oldest living person in the United Kingdom, and has said that the reason she has lived for so long is thanks to a single shot nightcap of Famous Grouse whisky every night for the past 60 years.

Jones’ claims are now beginning to sound familiar, as this year alone we have already heard from a 102-year-old woman crediting beer for her long life, a 100-year-old woman believing that six G&Ts a day keeps her young and a 107-year-old Spanish winemaker who put his long life down to four bottles of red wine every day.

“I never miss my night cap. All I have is the whisky at night,” said the mother of one.

“Whisky is very good for you. I started having a nightly tot of it when I turned 50 so I’ve been having it every night for the last 60 years and I certainly have no intention of stopping now.

“My doctor said “keep up with the whisky Grace, it’s good for your heart.

“I still feel the same as I did when I was 60. I feel fine. I feel full of spirit. I have got seven cards from the Queen now. This year’s was a very nice one.”

Jones celebrated the landmark birthday at Buckland Manor near her home in Worcestershire with her 78-year-old daughter, where she enjoyed a drinks reception, lunch, and a complimentary glass of whisky.

She was born in Liverpool September 16, 1906, five years after the death of Queen Victoria.

Johnson Celebrates 40 Years of Wine Guides

Hugh Johnson's wine guide was the first wine book that I purchased way back in the 1980's.

In February, Hugh Johnson addressed the lecture theater of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa.

In the dramatic, steeply-raked auditorium, Johnson, in a long sleeveless waistcoat that looked faintly Afghan, spoke for 40 minutes, amiably meandering his way through the last half century or so of popping corks and wielding knife and fork. The audience sat relaxed but rapt; the veteran wine critic speaks in public as if he's sitting at a kitchen table covered with open bottles, corkscrew in hand. It's a rare skill.

ohnson is a prolific writer (and tweeter). The first article he ever published was in Vogue in 1960. It begins: "Talking turkey to a number of people who know their minds about wine , I was struck by the confusion that surrounds this inescapable bird." You can just hear him, can't you? The laconic, slightly amused, drawing-room tone is there already, and it's changed little over the years.

Zoom forward six decades and he's writing sentences like this (on the hoo-ha over the great 2015 vintage): "What an industry! Imagine if Stuttgart partied every time they made a batch of cars that started!" Elsewhere he calls Port and Sherry "cockle warmers to export to shivering northerners". He's endlessly quotable.

Those quotations above are from the foreword to Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2017 (Mitchell Beazley, £11.99/$16.99), now in its 40th edition, with 12 million copies sold. It's a satisfying, heavy little tome, dense with facts, all of it shot through with Johnson's neat way with a phrase. He sums up the dynamism of California by noticing the "extraordinary numbers of fanatical winemakers in deadly earnest". In Switzerland he notes "the savvy of the Swiss themselves", keeping prices high and the grapes obscure. He skewers fads – when he uses the words "irrationally fashionable" you know what's coming and, sure enough, the following paragraph is about natural wines and concludes with "seasoned drinkers don't get carried away". There's a steely eye behind those friendly half-moon spectacles.

The Pocket Wine Book is now put together by a couple of dozen critics, journalists and MWs, many of them eminent. Under the editorship of Margaret Rand they are assigned sections and they add and prune as necessary. They aim to change a minimum 25 per cent of copy every year. Johnson goes through it with a "fine-tooth comb", Rand tells me. It's clear he does. His wit and erudition run through the book like the lettering in a stick of Brighton rock.

That style was honed writing columns, dozens of them, thousands it must be, for Vogue, About Town, the Sunday Times, Decanter, World of Fine Wine and many others on both sides of the Atlantic. Hugh Johnson on Wine (Mitchell Beazley, £20) is subtitled "Good bits from 55 years of scribbling".

There's a nugget on every page. An article chosen at random is from the early '80s and asks: "Three hundred, six hundred pounds a bottle? How much can wine fresh from a producer possibly be worth?" Another page, and it's a 1994 broadside against Robert Parker. The critic (at the height of his powers at that stage) is castigated as a bore and mocked for his prolixity. "To RP big is good; huge is great. What could be simpler? But why does he take so long to say so?" As I said, that mild exterior conceals steel.

Johnson has added chatty margin notes. "I do hope I'm not repeating myself", he says of his stiletto-job on Parker. But the articles and book extracts need no updating. Comments made more than 30 years ago are still perfectly reliable. How much indeed can a new wine be worth? Even when a comment is dated, it's usually notable for its timeliness in predicting (or deploring) a trend. He's always been a champion of the artisan – he's written about the Slow Food movement from its beginnings, and he generally sides with the small, the slow and the painstaking. He looks with a hint of disapproval on tasting marathons. "You have to go back to a wine, again and again," he's fond of saying.

Fittingly, Johnson is also a gardener of national renown, creating a splendid arboretum and gardens at Saling Hall, the Elizabethan manor house he bought in the 1970s and lived in until 2011. "The parallel pleasures of wine and gardening are obvious," he wrote in 2002. "The exercise of taste, enjoying the productions of nature, and the element of time. Both are moving targets. A garden is as much a process as a place."

Above all, he's a master of the vivid description. The valley of the Ebro is "open, austere, a great hammock slung between the snows of two Sierras". On the Tuscany of old: "the black-clad contadini planting, cultivating and cropping with hardly a pause". The sentences roll on the tongue like rich Brunello. And they can be brief as a haiku. In the Pocket Wine Book, producers are described (or filleted) in a sentence. Here's Marojallia: "Micro-château looking for big prices for big, rich, un-Margaux-like wines. Less full-throttle from 2011." Or the ultra-modern Baigorri in Rioja: "Wines as glamorous as the glassy architecture."

In one early column, the author described himself as having "one foot in the cellar and the other in the potting shed". It's a fine image of a man who has measured out his life with trowel and corkscrew – and pen, of course.

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