“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





13 December 2008


Roberto at Wine Expo more gallons per smile

No Fish Eye Merlot At Wine Expo

By PHILIP WHITE – a version of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly 05 DEC 08

Australia’s invasion of the USA wine gullet was always Quixotic as much as chaotic. Other than the $1000 per bottle gobstoppers like those wine shipper Dan Phillips delivers to Robert Parker Jr., who loves them, the bulk of our ordnance has always been industrial plonk lobbing at the price of bottled Italian water. I’ve left a lot of good work out, but you get my drift.

When capitalism fell over the other day, the Australian blokes responsible for both horns of this wine dilemma, and their bank managers, went out and got cactus, were awful to their wives, and contemplated suicide. The smarter ones then took a tablet, begged their wives for forgiveness, hired a lawyer, and sued their American distributors for payment.

Expensive Wines Rot On LA Shelves”, Jerry Hirsch trumpeted in the LA Times. “Sales of high-end wine are plummeting ... the Wall Street meltdown is rippling across the alluvial fields of Napa Valley to the chalky limestone vineyards of Champagne in France...”

Note: Jerry has to explain that Champagne’s in France. Either the location of Australia is obviously too difficult to explain (so we missed out), we just don’t count, or American distributors owe Australian winemakers so much money they’ve rubbed us off the map.

Ridiculously expensive wines – even Bob Parker’s personal favourites - are certainly taking the biggest hit. Mouton-Rothschild ’05 has slumped 50% to $549 per bottle in a few months.

“People are still drinking wine”, Jerry continued. “They are just spending less”. He listed a few examples of people who have cut their wine budgets from $20-$30 bottles to $10 jobs, and quoted the owner of a posh wine shop who went to a the supermarket and bought a big swag of commercial cheapies from which he selected two dozen to “offer in the store as ‘recession busters’ starting from $5.99 for a Fish Eye Merlot ... he then demanded a price break from his distributors so that he could match supermarket prices and still make a profit”.

Jerry quoted another favourite retailer whose sales “were off 28% in October compared with a year ago. November sales are running 16% below last year's figures, even after factoring in a bump-up around the presidential election earlier this month ...”

Wondering about all this, I called my maestro, Roberto, Wine Director at Wine Expo in Santa Monica, who was introduced to me by his former neighbour, Dan Phillips. (No expensive gobstoppers or River cheapos at Wine Expo, though. Roberto won’t stock them.) The LA Times generally raves about him and his store, which you should visit on www.wineexpo.com.

”They interviewed me for that story but I guess I was not telling the story they wanted to write this time”, he said. “We are selling MORE bottles to MORE people but at lower price points.

“Those in the Carriage Trade are getting to eat the cake they baked themselves and finding it is frosted with rat poison”, Roberto said.

“Those of us that have ALWAYS been about alternatives and value for money, travel the world and buy direct, are down somewhat, but not out by a long shot. We want you to be able to buy twice as much wine but spend half as much money with NO compromise in quality and we believe this is not only possible but that it is a lot more fun as well!

“Curiously, with all that ranting about Champagne being dead, we still sell boatloads of high quality farmer fizz in the $40-60 range”, he added.

Australia would have done better selling water to America.

Just one little desal plant, and we could tip the whole of the Gulf St Vincent into California. For a start, they’re short of fresh water. Then, Vince is the patron of schoolgirls as well as viticulturers, and you don’t strike too many California schoolgirls without their bottle of designer water. Call it Great Southern Ocean water. Great Australian Bight Water. Desert Water. Clean Water. Cool Water. Whalesbreath. Shark Bay. To keep ’em thirsty, we could also sell ’em the designer salt we took out of the water. A marketer’s dream!

All the money we wasted on the wine industry – pipelines, perma pine, wire, petrochemicals and refineries - could have gone into maintaining the River.

But we buggered the River by tipping it on the desert sugar quarries we call River vineyards, added some ground-up American oak, some cream of tartar and concentrate, dressed it up in fake aboriginal art, called it something really bloody stupid, and flogged it to America at the smallest margin possible. Brilliant.

There’s a serious challenge here. If our lads can’t tip our bursting wine lake into the USA before the Aussie dollar returns to equity, then they might as well regroup now for the second mighty wave when we flog America our water, unadulterated. I’ll bet Dan Phillips could sell water at $1000 a bottle.


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