Of V8’s & Vino

Thursday, 3 June 2021

THIS instalment starts out a bit highbrow, but hold on tight and we'll get to the nonsense shortly. OK. Ahem . . . In the recent film Vinomondo, and in debates conducted at last December's University of London Wine and Philosophy seminars (that's the highbrow bit), the topic of global wine homogeneity has once again been raised. All over the world winemakers with the same technocratic approach are using the same grapes and the same yeasts and the same oak chips to make the same wine.

Not only are Australians to blame, but so too the big purple monster known as the wine trade. Not only does the world now have more wine to drink than ever before, but it also has more people to sell it.

Faceless wine distribution corporations with big buying power pressure small wine companies to make cheaper and more No-Name wines. Supermarkets and big wine chains are complicit; the wine media is complicit (when was the last time you read a negative wine review?). As a tiny wine producer in France puts it in Vinomondo: "Real wine is dead." Not quite. There are resistance fighters emerging - some of them in the strangest places and from seemingly the strangest backgrounds.

Jeremy Holmes is a rev head. For the past few years he has been running an Autobahn car accessories store in Elizabeth, a very northern suburb in Adelaide. This is where Jimmy Barnes came from. Up here it's wall-to-wall fluffy dice and eight-ball gear shifter knobs. Yet at the end of a long day, when Holmes red-lines it home to Tanunda, he's got only one thing on his mind: "high-end booze". At least, that's how he describes the fine wines of the Old World.

Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux. And this betrays the man's other background: the wine business. This is where he spent his formative years.

A Roseworthy marketing graduate from 1990, he's worked in sales and in human resources for such companies as Bridgewater Mill and Yalumba.

He's also put his money where his substantial wine-addicted mouth is, being a partner in a wine import and export business, SATCO, and a family wine label in the Barossa - Mad Dog Wines. Yes, he is a petrol-head who loves good wine. Does this sound like the sort of wine merchant you can trust? Holmes' latest venture is d'or to Door. This is a mail-list wine sales business that began in November last year. "I do a lot of travelling to Europe," Holmes says, "and the sorts and the styles of wine that I taste over there are the wines I want to sell here".

The tall, helplessly jovial man adds an important caveat: "They're also wines I drink. I'm not interested in selling wine that I haven't been able to enjoy with a meal." Holmes is as much a wine taster as he is a drinker. "You know, I could get on the internet now and find wines that have reputations and wonderful tasting notes; and I could probably buy them into Australia, but you can't be sure until you've drunk the wines properly."

Holmes is keen on what he terms QPR. No, he is not a Queens Park Rangers supporter. This, he reckons, stands for Quality Price Rapport. Lovely word, that one - "rapport". Very wine and very posh. "I'm working on small margins but I don't have the overheads. I have to sell wine that over-delivers.

Wines get found out once they hit the world of retail, so I want to make sure the booze I'm selling is good value." At this stage d'or to Door's wines come from distributors that supply most of Australia with its existing imported wine.

Holmes' prices are very reasonable, however. William Fevre Petit Chablis 2002 at $26 is well under most fine wine stores' price. He says the importers are happy to supply him because they are keen to find new ways to market and that his prices are low because he can get the best out of them - that's the wine business background coming into play. And maybe with a touch of the Elizabeth car accessories store haggle too.

"The initial response has been great. And the suppliers and the list won't stay the same. I'm back to Burgundy and Spain later this year and I'm keen to bring in some of my own discoveries." One qualm with d'or to Door's newsletter is its occasional use of Parker Points. Robert Parker Jnr - the voice behind Wine Advocate - is the most influential wine critic in the world. Some people have a problem with this. I don't. In my book the Parker system is very useful: any wine rated 90 points or more by Robert Parker is to be avoided at all costs.

This is a critic who likes white wines more akin to Madeira and red wines more akin to bad port. Parker is a taster, not a drinker. How American. But don't let that put you off this new avenue to fine wine. d'or to Door is a wine-buying newsletter to watch. It's straightforward, no-nonsense, and keen on "QPR high-end booze". (Mondovino is released in Australia this month.)