This month I volunteered to represent AWE at the International Drinks Exhibition (IDE) by delivering a half-hour seminar… without wine. That last part is always a challenge, and as I was going to be doing this for nothing, I felt that I needed to come up with an idea close to my heart. That way I knew I could deliver with my – ah-hem – customary enthusiasm. However, ideally my presentation also needed to be linked with promoting our 100 AWEsome Wines selection. To present something on Jura or Savoie was obviously going to be much too obscure, but as the audience were going to be, I believed, mainly in the bar and restaurant trade, I came up with the idea of a title ‘Lesser-Known Grape varieties’, tagging on to this: ‘Diversifying your Wine Offer’.
Before I prepared a PowerPoint, I sat down with a copy of the 2022 100 AWEsome Wine booklet and made a grape count… There are quite a few blends, so for these wines I counted every grape named in the description, or (because I didn’t want to spend too much time), when there were none named, I made an educated guess as to what was in there. I was impressed by the diversity of wines and grapes we members had chosen. I ended up with 34 white and 27 red grapes and I had my hook. Incidentally, because by this time, I became intrigued with analysing the list, I did a country count too… there were 17 including Japan for Sake. The top four countries were all far ahead of the runners-up and were, in order: France (way out front), Italy, Spain and South Africa.
My presentation began with an introduction to me and to AWE, and then I launched into why grape varieties matter, with a slide headed ‘Grape Varieties – Who gives a pip’. I mentioned the various variables in wines and how grape varieties influence the taste but are also bound by regional traditions and appellation laws. At this point I was going to bring in the audience and find out what varieties they could name – unfortunately the set-up of the IDE open-plan seminar area made it impossible for audience interaction and given there were only four people in the audience (another two joined in later, I think), it seemed a bit pointless. So, I quickly named a few key ones and then talked about the Wine Century club. I wonder how many readers are members… I confess that I am not, but I feel sure that I have now tasted wines from 200+ grape varieties and drunk wines (I always like to differentiate between tasting and drinking) from 100+ varieties.
I followed up with ‘Crunching the Grape Variety Numbers’ citing first 8,000-10,000 known varieties, a number given by grape biologist and ampelographer Jose Vouillamoz, making the point that the uncertainty is due to the prevalence of synonyms. Then, I checked up some other figures from the freely available Which winegrape varieties are grown where? By Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen, updated in 2020 and published by the University of Adelaide Press. I had always liberally thrown around one of those 80/20 stats that are so easy to explain, that 80% of wines are made from just 20 grape varieties – actually that is incorrect, although I’m certain that the figure is ‘at least 80%’ in most, if not all, New World countries, and possibly in France too. The real figure worldwide is closer to 50% of wines from 20% of varieties, but it was hard to be accurate. From the same source I listed the ten most planted varieties in 2016 and the changes since 2000.
What to me was the whole point of this presentation came next, an attempt to put over the argument as to why we should all promote lesser-known grape varieties. This was effectively about the dangers of limiting diversity – not only for the whole biodiversity and environmental picture (incorporating climate change and disease threats), but also for the market, which might get bored of a selection of wines from grape varieties that nearly all originate in France and Spain. Imagine also if in the UK, for example, we were suddenly adamantly against all things French… More seriously, many lesser-known grape varieties were dropped decades or even centuries ago, because they didn’t produce the required quantity or sugar levels. The combination of climate change, less need for volume, quest for quality and better understanding of viticulture has changed all of that, hence they find their place today. With so many Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and other major grape varieties reaching 14% alcohol and more year in, year out, it is vital to embrace alternatives. I showed a slide (pictured) with a few examples of names of interesting varieties, which I imagined the audience might not know of and noted also the other countries with wide ranges of grape varieties.
I finished with some extra benefits of encouraging lesser-known varieties, which along with the contribution to biodiversity of rescuing varieties from the brink (an expression used by Caroline Gilby MW at a fascinating recent seminar on rare grapes at her Blue of the Danube event), included the fact that these varieties provide a source of endless stories to share with consumers.
Concluding with a blatant advertisement for 100 AWEsome Wines and all our skills as presenters, in particular my own (!), I ended the session for four people (or was it six? I was on a roll, so didn’t notice). It was an interesting exercise, despite the lamentably small audience. Anyone want to hire me to do this again, but with wines this time?Tags: AWEsome Wines IDE Lesser-known grape varieties