Whether you relish or dread the approach of Christmas, we can all surely unite around one common ideal: You DO NOT want to run out of wine… Do you?
Of course you don’t. Below I’ve outlined the key information relating to Christmas orders.
That’s it. All incredibly simple which probably means I’ve forgotten something important. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions and remember to order early and tick the most enjoyable Christmas “must do” off the intimidating and absurdly complicated “to do” list.
This one’s a bit of a stream of consciousness. Bear with me. I’m not going to proof-read it or I’ll doubtless delete it. I’m going to write, hit publish, then I’m not going to look at it again. Here goes…
No one was more surprised than me when the highly prestigious Harpers Wine and Spirits Magazine (one of our trade bibles) placed us as the 42nd best wine merchant in the 2018 “Harpers Top 50” awards. Given that there are approaching 1000 wine merchants in the country we were pretty pleased with that. To be notified that we were somewhere in the top 50 again in 2019 was nice. But to attend the awards and find that we’d picked up the top spot… let’s just say that I’m still processing it.
I’m generally pretty ambivalent about awards really. Kate told me off for playing down our previous No 42 slot as she pointed out that it meant we were in the top 5% of wine merchants in the country, she’d worked bloody hard and she was pretty happy about the result so I should just shut up. Told me didn’t she… and she was right of course (and it goes without saying that this year’s No 1 slot is down to her and the awesome BinTwo crew).
But despite Kate’s sound advice, awards are still something I struggle with personally. In the past I’ve attended those where the awards came with an entry fee attached and a compulsory requirement to attend a paid gala event. Then there are those where you self-nominate and put yourself forward for consideration – a concept I struggle with. And I find I really can’t bring myself to send messages out to followers asking them to support us in the on line “public vote” type awards.
Not that I’m having a pop at those different types of awards or those who enter them. It’s just that “seeking recognition” is really not my style because in my twisted mind it merely invites being exposed as a fraud. You can blame my outward veneer of confidence that sits like a thin sheet of ice on a deep, cold lake of imposter syndrome – a sense that any success is undeserved and down to blind luck. The certain knowledge that at any moment people are going to see through me. (That’s a whole other bag of screwed up psychological worms that I might write about some time… I’ll spare you for now but if you recognise any of the feelings I’ve described then have a look at this article).
Of course now that we’ve won an award I’m naturally a huge fan of them! But in truth, if we were going to win something, then the Harpers award could have been tailor made for my peculiar mindset. Nominations are made by other people in the trade without any notification to the nominees. A panel whittles the nominations down to a shortlist of nominees who are then approached for some background information and then finally a judging panel of industry experts convene and settle on a rank order for the Top 50 (full list here). It sounds like they duked it out a bit…
“The judging session was fierce as we delved into the intricacies of what it takes to be a fantastic Independent Wine Merchant in today’s trading conditions. This was not a simple decision on who was the biggest but rather who on this list was proving successful, innovative, sustainable and a fantastic example of modern day wine retail.”
So why did they choose us? Well I’m still a little mystified. (As an aside Mary is still enjoying the fact that she was there to see me genuinely lost for words, stupefied, and unable to approach the stage until she gave me a gentle push in the small of my back. Rumour has it she saw a tear but the lights were dim and she’d been drinking so I’m sure she’s mistaken).
As I’ve said many times since, we are *not* the best wine merchant in the country. There are hardened pros out there with technical product knowledge, commercial nowse and palates that I can never hope to match. Merchants who were finding and importing quirky, interesting wines while I was still transitioning from farm-bought scrumpy to a back pocket bottle of Twenty-Twenty.
But I *am* happy to accept the award as a small pat on the back from others in the industry. An indication that others in the trade think that we’re doing OK. Helpful encouragement that the things I’ve always thought proper pros must regard as trivial mucking about are actually held in some regard. That our approach – driven more by a culture of looking after people and putting them at ease rather than an absolute focus on “the wine” – has resonated with grown-ups in the trade. Those were the sorts of things that the judges mentioned to me after the ceremony. That we always had a project on the go. That it looked like we were having fun. That we didn’t play things safe and that we weren’t afraid to champion the quirky. Basically they’ve given us license to keep on mucking about… which is good.
And I’ve been surprised at the impact that’s had on me personally – something that’s of far greater value than the award itself. Many of you will know that we fell into the wine trade and purchased BinTwo at short notice and with little by way of background in the trade. It was a near vertical learning curve at first – and at times it still feels like a pretty steep slope.
In the past wine hasn’t always occupied a positive place in my life. I still remember the burning humiliation of being made to host a wine and cheese party (with little by way of preparation) as part of the process of being commissioned “from the ranks” before being sent to Sandhurst. The ridiculous notion that *this* was in some way an important skill to master before becoming an officer. The patient faces of guests as, like some sort of performing monkey, I rattled off nonsense about how this wine I can’t pronounce apparently goes well with this particular cheese. How this assisted me with commanding a Platoon in Northern Ireland was never explained to me. Beer and whisky chasers were the preferred drinks of choice by all ranks after a tense patrol. “Can’t wait to get this body armour off and sip a glass of Margaux” said no soldier ever…
Long will live the memory of arriving at a fellow officer’s family home for Christmas with two bottles of something Australian and (I thought) expensive, before with a sinking heart pulling into the driveway of a mini Downton Abbey and subsequently drinking something French and from 1974 with lunch. Much more recently in life I’ve witnessed (and experienced) wine knowledge being “weaponised” by those who should know better but who enjoy the control it offers. Ahhh a surprise public blind tasting… what fun.
Look – I know these past events are about demons in my head, sometimes unpleasant people and dated hierarchies rather than being about “wine”. I’ve probably over-shared but it goes to context. I still feel like an amateur in “the trade”. Tasting wines in front of other pros remains a high anxiety event for me. Offering a view or comment first is a sheer act of willpower. But over the course of the last year or so I’ve started to feel much more comfortable in my skin in terms of what we’re trying to do with BinTwo. A feeling that I’m happy with what “we are” and with with what “we’re not”.
So a small “attaboy!” from the trade couldn’t have been better timed and I’m incredibly grateful for a bit of external encouragement that we’re on the right track. And the process of providing the background information that Harpers asked for (answering the nightmare question of “what makes you stand out?” – something I had to do in 5 minutes against a tight deadline) is probably the most valuable output of all from this episode as it’s a better summary of “us” than I’ve ever achieved in any business plan.
So for anyone who’s still here after this absurd ramble around my psyche, the Harpers award has served to confirm the BinTwo manifesto – I’ve copied my answer to that tricky question below. Let me know if we ever veer off track and thank you all for supporting us and coming along for the ride…
Harpers – What makes you stand out from other retailers?
Hmmm – not sure that I’d claim that we do “stand out”. But in terms of what I think we do well… We start from the proposition that we’re all about making people feeling welcome and comfortable in our space. Wine shops can be intimidating – I still feel that now walking into some merchants – so everything is designed to avoid that. The way you’re greeted, the way we give people time and space to browse, the way we answer questions about wine and the way we react when people ask to do things like put ice in the outstanding Burgundy that we’ve showcased on our by the glass menu. And that also drives how I’ve recruited my team. I’ve got a collection of lovely people who know how to play the host. None of them knew much about wine when they started with us.
We added the wine knowledge with WSET training then drove home the message that they shouldn’t slip into becoming a wine bore. I think we do well at being a little bit brave with our selection. We have lots of wines that you’d expect to find in any good merchant but I don’t chase wines that people feel we “ought” to have at any cost. If we can’t find that stand out Burgundy at the right price then we won’t list it. We champion the quirky and the unusual. We’re gutsy with what we choose to put on by the glass to give people the opportunity to try something a little different. We’re currently selling a funky orange wine that we imported after a trip to McLaren Vale. I think it was quite brave of us to ship a large quantity of that as our first import given how niche orange wine still is. Luckily it’s selling really well.
We don’t have the scope yet to have our own winery but it’s on the list! I have outline plans for what I think would be the smallest micro winery in the country… watch this space. We’ll be making our own gin next month by bringing a mobile still to our shop (I have outline plans for a micro distillery too). I think this speaks to our spirit of play and sense of fun. We like a project. Case in point would be our “own label” Jammy Git brand.
Named as a playful nod to how lucky we are to be in this trade, we use it to showcase a wine we believe in – something with a quirky back story. The current JG is a non vintage blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Gloucestershire and vinified in Cornwall. Blended by us and the winemaker following an impromptu cellar visit. He said it would never sell as it’s non vintage. We said blend it – we’ll underwrite the risk and label it as Jammy Git. Currently flying off the shelves as our lighter summer red. I think these wines, and others like it, sell well yes because they’re great wines, but mostly because customers see what we’re trying to do and they want to support it – maybe even be part of it. Does that sound horribly arrogant? So I’m waffling. What do we do that makes us stand out? I suppose we genuinely try to make sure that we’re having fun, having a play, respect the product but don’t take it too seriously… don’t revere it. Create the conditions that mean that our customers enjoy it and have fun too. Make them feel part of the gang and bring them along for the ride.
On Monday 26th August we’ll be making our very own gin, literally on our own doorstep, right in the heart of Padstow. Between 10am and 5pm you’ll be able to witness the creation of the very first batch. Like all good ideas, it started over a drink…
The lovely Polly is standing in for the equally lovely Kate whilst she’s on maternity leave. When Polly brought her beer loving husband into our little wine shop for an anniversary drink, none of us could have anticipated that it would lead to new product idea.
A dedicated “man of the hops and barley”, I think Vinnie was quietly taking the mickey out of us wine lovers and our sometimes esoteric tasting notes. We had served him a wine that we described as having a delicious saline note to the finish. With a wry grin he remarked that it was “like the flick of a mermaid’s tail”. I knew immediately that we just had to do something with that phrase. Fast forward to our own anniversary and Mary and I visited the Gin School at Salcombe Distillery to make our own personalised gin. There could be only one inspiration for the recipe. What started as a bit of fun took on a more serious note when we tasted the finished product and a new BinTwo product idea was born.
Padstow Mermaid Gin
Sir John Betjeman wrote that the mermaid met a local man at Hawker’s Cove and fell in love. Unable to bear living without him, she tried to lure him beneath the waves. In desperation, he shot her to escape a watery grave. In her death throes, the vengeful mermaid cursed Padstow throwing a handful of sand towards the town. The Doom Bar sandbank grew and over 600 vessels have since been wrecked on her sands.
There are other versions of the legend… none end well for the mermaid.
In making Padstow Mermaid gin, we looked to the legend (and to Vinnie*) for inspiration. At gin school, we developed a fusion of fifteen botanicals offering a fresh citrus kick and a delicious saline finish. Careful use of Cornish seaweed and samphire from Padstow Kitchen Garden bring just a hint of the sea. You might almost say it’s like the flick of a mermaid’s tail.
We like to serve ours with one part gin to two parts tonic poured over plenty of ice with a slice of fresh lemon (or even preserved lemon if you’re feeling frisky), dried sea spaghetti from the Cornish Seaweed Company and a tiny pinch of Cornish Sea Salt.
Keen for our gin to be of Padstow origin but owning no still of our own, we found a Master Distiller who would come to us. The copper still “Prosperity” travels on the back of “Ginny” a 1973 VW camper. Together they are known as “Still on the Move”.
Padstow Mermaid Gin will be hand-crafted in batches of just 140 bottles. Created by us, with an awful lot of help from some friends.
£45.00 (£40.50 to wine club members) BUY NOW
Served as our new house G&T and available to purchase by the bottle from about 5.15pm on 26th August!
* Polly would like it made clear that we are in no way suggesting that Vinnie is “a legend”.
Holm Oak is a labour of love for winemaker Bec Duffy and her husband Tim Duffy, viticulturalist. Since 2013 they have followed their dream of crafting delicious expressions of cool-climate Tasmanian wines and we’ve imported six of them for you to try.
(Read more about our tour of Tasmania…)
With 20 years’ experience gained in Australia and the US, Bec approaches winemaking with precision, continually perfecting her craft to let the wines speak authentically of their place of origin. Tim is a third-generation grape grower and an agronomist with extensive viticultural experience. Their complementary skills drive their vision to produce delicious wines that reflect their home, Tasmania’s pristine Tamar Valley, and their own personalities – honest, down to earth, genuine and authentic.
Holm Oak’s estate vineyards are steeped in sporting history. In the 1930s, Alexander Patent Racquet Co. selected the site for cultivation of Holm Oak trees, intended for use in the production of tennis racquets. Sadly, the wood from the Holm Oak trees didn’t meet the standards required by the company.
That’s where this story takes a fortuitous turn for the Tasmanian wine industry; grape vines were planted in the rich and fertile land in 1983, making Holm Oak one of the older vineyards in Tasmania. Using the original Pinot Noir and Cabernet plantings, they now also cultivate Arneis, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
Holm Oak’s premium estate-grown Pinot Noir, ‘The Wizard’ was inspired by the site’s tennis heritage. Sourced from six specific rows of the vineyard, it was named after the famous tennis racquet of the same name. Produced by Alexander Patent Racquet Co, it was used by Australia’s Jack Crawford when he won Wimbledon in 1933.
The savoury and textural characters of this Arneis make it a great match for an Antipasto platter.
The fruit for this wine was harvested when the fruit was showing classic honeysuckle and grapefruit characters. The fruit was pressed and allowed to settle for 18 hours before being transferred to a Numblot concrete egg (25%) and stainless steel. The wine underwent natural fermentation. Following fermentation, the wine was aged on yeast lees for 5 months prior to bottling..
This is a lovely classic style of Arneis. It has vibrant honeysuckle, lychee and grapefruit characters on both the nose and palate. The partial fermentation and maturation in the concrete egg adds texture and complexity. The palate has delicious flinty, slatey acidity and great concentration.
£17.00 or just £15.30 to wine club members.
The rich lusciousness of this Chardonnay matches really well with full flavoured pork, and there is enough acidity in the wine to cleans the palate after eating that delicious crackling!
The fruit was harvested at 125 abv to retain high natural acidity, while the fruit was showing strong citrus and grapefruit characters, as well as some floral notes. The fruit was pressed to tank and allowed to settle for 24 hours and then racked to barrel (20% new French oak and 80% 1-4 year old). The wine underwent 100% natural fermentation, and 20% malolactic fermentation. The wine was matured in oak for 10 months prior to bottling.
This is a refined and elegant cool climate Chardonnay. The nose displays aromas of citrus fruit, apricot kernel and white peach with spicy integrated oak, whilst the palate is fine and minerally.
£21.00 or just £21.50 to wine club members.
The richness and texture of crayfish lobster requires a wine with depth and complexity. ‘The Wizard’ Chardonnay is a perfect match as it has the body, weight and palate presence to bring out the best in this crustacean.
‘The Wizard’ Chardonnay is a blend of only the five best barrels of Chardonnay from the 2017 vintage. The fruit for this wine was whole bunch pressed and then transferred to barrel for full wild fermentation. 80% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation and 80% was matured in new French oak. A mix of coopers is used to ensure we get great complexity without overt oak characters. The wine was lees stirred monthly for 12 months prior to being bottled in May 2018.
This is a refined and elegant Chardonnay. Full barrel fermentation with 80% new oak and 100% wild fermentation has resulted in a wine with great complexity and style. The nose displays aromas of citrus fruit, apricot kernel, and white peach with spicy integrated oak, whilst the palate is fine and minerally.
£39.50 or just £35.55 to wine club members.
The Protege Pinot has lovely fresh fruit aromas and juicy acidity. It is a lighter style of Pinot, but has enough intensity to match well with the smoked salmon. The acidity in the wine balances well with the oiliness of the fish.
This Pinot made to be a lighter more fruit driven style of Pinot. To achieve this the fruit was picked at moderate sugar levels when the fruit was displaying lovely fresh strawberry and cherry characters. The fruit was then de-stemmed and fermented on skins for 10 days. Specific yeasts which are known to enhance fruit aromatics are used to conduct the ferment. Following fermentation the wine was matured in tank prior to being bottled.
This fresh, lively and aromatic Pinot shows lovely lifted strawberry and spice characters on the nose. These aromatics carry through to the palate which has fine, soft tannin, lovely bright fruit and juicy acidity. This is a gorgeously light Tasmanian Pinot Noir which is perfect drinking at any time.
£17.00 or just £15.30 to wine club members.
The earthy, spicy nature of our Pinot Noir coupled with the dark cherry fruit characters match perfectly with game meats and Rannoch Farm quail is a delicious Tasmanian product.
Several clones of Pinot Noir from many blocks on our Estate vineyard were picked over a three-week period. All batches were destemmed and were wild fermented in small open top fermenters. Ferments were hand plunged up to 4 times a day and then pressed to oak upon dryness. The wine underwent MLF in barrel and was then racked back to barrel for further maturation. 25% new French oak was used (the remainder 1 – 4 year old barrels) and the wine was matured in these barrels for 10 months.
2017 was a long, cool year. Whilst yields were relatively high, berry size was small. This resulted in well balanced Pinot with lovely aromatics, bright fruit and fine tannin structure. The 2017 Pinot has some beautiful spice, strawberry and cherry characters on the nose. The palate has fantastic fruit intensity, vibrant acidity and fine silky tannins.
£21.00 or just £18.90 to wine club members
The lighter tannin structure and the earthy, spicy characters in The Wizard Pinot Noir make it a great match for the rich gamey flavours of venison.
Although Holm Oak take a pretty natural approach with all of their wines, the approach to making this wine was for minimal intervention. This wine is slowly evolving to include more of the new clones of Pinot that we have planted over the past 10 years. In particular, the MV6 and 115 add structure and elegance respectively to our older D5V12 clone which still makes up the base of this wine. 30% whole bunches were included in the ferments which were done in small open top fermenters. The ferments were allowed to start naturally and were then hand plunged up to 5 times a day. The wine was then basket pressed directly to barrel. Through barrel selection tasting Holm Oak ensure they select only the best barrels to make the finished Wizard. In January of 2018 20 barrels (60% new oak, 40% 1 year old) were chosen for this wine. The wine stayed in oak for a further 4 months and was bottled in May 2018.
This is a beautiful, more structured style of Pinot noir. The complex and fragrant nose shows dark cherry and plum fruit characters, with some attractive spice and earthy characters. The palate is firm and savoury as a result of the whole bunch fermentation and new oak, but has lovely dark fruit characters which will continue to open up over time.
£39.50 or just £35.55 to wine club members
If you’re not sure what to expect from Tasmanian wine then you’re in good company. In February this year Kate and I visited this little known winemaking region with a vague expectation that the wines we’d find would be different from those we’d just discovered in McLaren Vale. But we expected that they’d be essentially Australian in character – a variation on a theme. What we found were wines that give the best of Burgundy and Champagne a good run for their money…
Tasmania is a collection of over 300 islands just 150 miles to the South of mainland Australia. But in terms of climate and culture it’s a world apart. The main island is the 26th largest in the world and, at nearly 26,000 square miles, is roughly three times the size of Wales. With just 550,000 inhabitants it is remarkably sparsely populated with over 40% of the landmass given over to nature reserves. Most of those can only be accessed by strapping on your walking boots, channeling your inner Bear Grylls, and settling down to a two day trek into the wilderness.
We found a wild and rugged landscape and a friendly population who exhibited a sense of pride in doing things on “Tassie time” (redefining your understanding of “laid back”) and a good line in laconic humour. In fact one of my favourite characters from the trip helped me boil down my entire business strategy into one line:
“Don’t do business with dickheads and try not to be a dickhead yourself”
Thank you Jeremy Dindeen of Josef Chromy. Winemaker extraordinaire, philosopher and no nonsense business strategy guru.
In sharp contrast to the McLaren Vale leg of our trip, we found a landscape dominated by dolerite-capped mountains that shelter the state’s wine regions from high winds and rainfall. On the lower slopes, the vineyard soils are formed from ancient sandstones and mudstones and also from more recent river sediments and igneous rocks of volcanic origin. Tasmania apparently has the cleanest air on the planet and I can readily believe it (a consequence of their tiny population and use of hydro-electricity).
Tasmania has a moderate maritime climate, cooled by prevailing westerly winds off the Southern Ocean, providing conditions free of extremes in temperature. Think in terms of mild spring and summer temperatures, with warm autumn days and cool nights. They have no shortage of rain either but relatively little falls on the vineyards. If you’re thinking that sounds reminiscent of New Zealand then take a bow as Tasmania is on roughly the same line of latitude.
All this means that they can grow a wide variety of cool climate grapes that are sheltered from the extremes of climate seen elsewhere in Australia. Which means that if you want to look for comparisons you really need to look to New Zealand or, in our view, Burgundy and even Champagne. Because while we enjoyed the breadth of offering in Tasmania, where they consistently excelled was in the production of knock-out chardonnays, pinot noirs and traditional method sparkling wines.
You might reasonably be asking why, if the wines are as good as I say they are, you haven’t seen or heard more about them – let alone tasted them. That was a question I asked myself as, one day into of our five day tour, I ran out of superlatives to include in my notes. How had I missed these wines? Wines that have the consistency you’d expect from new world wines but the character you’d expect from Burgundy… and at keen prices for the quality too! The clue came from how relaxed the winemakers were about selling to us. In fact we often found wines that we loved only to be told that none was available to export.
And there’s the answer. Of the wine made in Tasmania 50% is consumed right there on the island and 45% makes it no further than mainland Australia. Only 5% goes to export worldwide meaning that of the 7.5 million bottles produced per year only 375,000 make it to export. Compare that to Burgundy’s average annual production of 200 million bottles (of which about 15 million are consumed in the U.K.) and you start to get a sense for how exclusive and elusive Tasmanian wine is.
And you don’t need to take my word for it. If you’d prefer to read what the grown ups have to say about the cracking wines of Tasmania, then Jancis Robinson (Master of Wine) wrote about the “island of opportunity” in 2012 and Fionna Beckett, our favourite food and wine matching guru, wrote that “Tasmania has more in common with Burgundy than Barossa”
Now I’ve whetted your appetite I guess it’s a good time to tell you that, in partnership with friends we made on the trip, we’ve imported some of the stand out wines from our tour of Tassie. Wines made by husband and wife team, Tim and Bec Duffy of Holm Oak; he tends the vines, she makes the wines. After 20 year’s experience respectively as a viticulturalist and winemaker, they met through on line dating looking for a winemaking partner as well as a life partner. We’re glad they found one another as they’ve been making outstanding wine together since 2013.
After a painfully long boat trip, these cracking Burgundy challengers are on our shelves now and will shortly be available by the glass as part of an unapologetic Aussie takeover of the BinTwo summer terrace menu. Enjoy!
Read more about our Tasmanian wines here…
Long-term followers will recall the release of our first edition “Jammy Git” – a fabulous Merlot made by our friend Mark Hellyar. Newcomers to BinTwo might quite be wondering why my head has suddenly appeared on a wine label and how I could consider naming a carefully crafted wine something as off-the-wall as “Jammy Git”. Allow me to explain…
In a moment of reflection I found myself pondering the circuitous route that led us into life in Cornwall and ownership of a rather nice little wine shop. Whilst it’s true to say that we’ve worked hard and been willing to take a chance here and there (to take the plunge if you will) we’ve also been very lucky. Lucky with some of the opportunities that arose at just the right moment and lucky with the people we’ve met along the way. And the development of our “Jammy Git” wine range is a case in point.
The name “Jammy Git” is a playful nod to the serendipity that led us into ownership of BinTwo five years ago and the general, all-round jamminess that we have broadly enjoyed since. Beneath the playful branding what Jammy Git wines have in common is a certain authenticity. By which I mean they’re wines that I feel we have a genuine connection with. We’ll have met the winemaker, visited the vineyard, understood their ethos. Maybe even have had a small part in the development of the wine.
I may not always be able to tell you that only one or two barrels of the wine was made and we have them exclusively (although that has happily been the case so far) but I will be able to look you in the eye and tell you that I haven’t bought a blank bottled, mass produced wine and slapped our label on it in order to maximise profits. They’ll always be good, honest wines. Wines that I love that I think you’ll love too. Wines priced fairly with no massive “own label” margins applied. Wines that have been made by winemakers I believe in with an ethos I can get behind. I wouldn’t put my name behind (or indeed my face on) anything else.
How do we find these wines? Some people make a career out of searching the globe for small pockets of extraordinary wines. We just seem to be lucky. With characteristic good luck our first contender for a BinTwo “Jammy Git” wine presented itself to us on our first visit to a Bordeaux vineyard. Jammy Git #1 subsequently flew off the shelves in just a few months. We found the contender for our second edition of Jammy Git much closer to home….
On a chilly January morning we visited Knightor winery, right here in Cornwall, to taste some new wines for the shelves. David the winemaker made an off-the-cuff comment about a blend of Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon that they had in development. My curiosity piqued I asked where they were sourcing the grapes as those ain’t varieties that are grown in UK. “Gloucestershire” came the dead pan reply.
Now, for context, I was born in Gloucestershire (just 15 minutes or so from where these grapes are grown). So I feel qualified and permitted to say that we can be an eccentric bunch. A lovely chap called Tim Chance grows these grapes under two enormous greenhouses in which he used to grow strawberries commercially. He now works full time as a builder and grows grapes instead just for fun. Because why not. He also collects and renovates German half track armoured vehicles from WWII. As I say, we’re an eccentric bunch.
Knightor, always up for a bit of an experiment, snap up all the grapes he can grow and have three vintages in different stages of development. The 2016 is already on release as part of their range but they were scratching their heads about which direction to take with the 2017 and 2018 vintages. Just for fun we started playing with blends in the winery taking samples of each vintage from barrel and trying different combinations. What started as a bit of a geeky wine fun took on a different air when we hit on a blend that led to collective shared look… “hang on… we’re onto something here”.
With a bit more tweaking and refinement we settled on a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon using 42% of 2018 (which had loads of lovely fruit but was lacking structure) 40% of 2017 (which had structure but was a bit lean and mean) and 18% of 2016 which, having spent two years in oak, added a bit more body, structure and complexity.
Winemakers are often reluctant to blend vintages in this way because, in some parts of the wine loving community, there’s a bit of a stigma around non-vintage blends so they can be hard to sell. It’s ironic really as most Champagnes produced are non-vintage blends and are unarguably seen as premium products. Go figure…
With the Champagne approach in mind we’ve focussed on getting the Jammy Git blend right first and foremost. What’s the best wine we can produce from these three vintages was the exam question we set ourselves and we’re very happy with the results. Light to medium bodied, fresh, juicy, bursting with red fruit flavours and a little hit of spice on the finish. Just 12% abv and vegan friendly to boot! We’ll be adding it to our terrace menu as a lighter summertime red and, by happy good fortune, we think it’s rather lovely slightly chilled.
So there you have it. An English red wine made through chance and a spirit of fun using grapes grown in an eccentric manner vinified and blended into a vintage defying wine by curious innovators and brought to you by us because it’s fun to try news things. All in all it’s very much a Jammy Git story..
Whether you relish or dread the approach of Christmas, we can all surely unite around one common ideal: You DO NOT want to run out of wine… Do you?
Of course you don’t. Below I’ve outlined the key information relating to Christmas orders.
That’s it. All incredibly simple which probably means I’ve forgotten something important. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions and remember to order early and tick the most enjoyable Christmas “must do” off the intimidating and absurdly complicated “to do” list.
If you’re a fan of The Wine Show and found yourself thinking “that Joe Fattorini seems like a nice guy”, then I’m here to tell you that he really is! We met Joe at a tasting last year, had a chat about the show and hung out for a while. Friendly, chatty, knowledgeable and generous with his time – yep… definitely a nice guy.
Of course, that was his error as I set about stalking him on twitter and bouncing a few ideas off him which somehow ended up with him making the offer for me to email him a few questions to answer. I can only assume he saw this as a cheaper alternative to taking out a restraining order. Anyway, such was the quality of his answers I’ve decided to spin them out over the course of five newsletters.
In our last four newsletters we asked for his pointers about hunting down the best value in 2018, we tackled the contentious issue of natural wine, how you can get the very best out of your wine and Joe’s biggest gripe with wine merchants. In this edition we talk about avoiding coded wine speak…
Here at BinTwo we try really hard to avoid using wine-bore jargon in the way we describe our wines. But we’re not immune to the odd “pencil shavings” slipping into our notes and sometimes I fear I may describe things too plainly. I know we could do better. Any top tips on striking the right balance between describing wines credibly but in a user-friendly way?
You SHOULD use pencil shavings in your tasting notes. Especially if it actually smells of pencil shavings. I had a Crozes Hermitage at a restaurant (Blandford Comptoir- owned by super-sommelier Xavier Rousset MS) last week that absolutely reeked of black olives. You need to highlight these things. But… when you ask people what they like about a wine they pretty much never say “well, I like a wine that smells of pencil shavings and black olive”. They say things like “I like a big wine” or “a smooth wine” or “zesty wines”.
Texture matters much more than aroma for most people when they’re thinking of preference. I like to see how I can expand my lexicon of textures. “Velveteen” “sandpaper tannins” “lissom”. Also it’s much more reliable. People are consistent in describing textures. But our ability to consistently name smells is much less reliable. It doesn’t mean we’re bad tasters.
There’s a fabulous new study by Asifa Majid at Raboud University in the Netherlands and Nicole Kruspe at Lund University in Sweden. They did work with a hunter gatherer trip called the Jahai in Malaysia. The found the Jahai could consistently name aromas accurately. But an agrarian group called the Semelai with a similar language nearby struggled. Much like people in the West. It seems like we lost the ability to make close assessments of smell when we started farming.
That’s the last of our “Better Ask Joe” series and I’m hugely grateful to him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts. I can’t help but feel that his excellent answers were deserving of far better questions. The lessons I’m taking away are:
1. Use terms and language that customers can easily relate to.
2. Match our level of “wine enthusiasm” to that of the customer in front of us.
3. Sell our wines with a genuine personal promise that we think this particular wine is right for the occasion the customer has described to us.
4. Natural wine – confirms my thinking that they can be great but are often awful. I think you deserve a better level of assurance that it’s all going to be alright when you hand over your money.
5. In the context of BREXIT and a tough 2017 harvest we’re going to have to work harder at sourcing great value wines for you. Luckily we enjoy that bit!
From our fourth edition of 2018:
Obviously at BinTwo we’re generally awesome in every way (ahem). But what would you tell our customers they should expect from us as a good independent wine merchant? And, put another way, what’s your biggest gripe with wine shops? (Careful now, Joe).
All wine merchants – and I’ve been one since the early 1990’s – have one HUGE problem. We love wine. We live wine. Wine runs through our veins almost as literally as it does metaphorically. And the same is true of some of our customers. But… there are an awful lot people who just want a nice drink. Most people just want a lovely drink. And wine nuts like us really struggle to understand that. Most people are not as naturally as enthused with wine as we are. Great merchants take a bit of time to understand their customers’ “enthusiasm level” and tailor their advice accordingly. It’s a bit like selling a car. Enthusiasts want to know what the horsepower and torque is. In the same way we want to know what sort of oak wine was fermented in. But a lot of valuable and brilliant customers want to know if the car comes in metallic blue and will still look good in a year. Just like some wine customers want to know if it goes with quiche and their boyfriend will like it. It takes a bit of empathy to get that balance right. Empathy. That’s the word. That’s what good wine merchants need.
Joe’s response to this question really struck a chord with me. As long term followers may recall, we sort of fell into the wine trade 5 years ago so we had to compensate for our relative lack of experience and knowledge. I think we’ve done that by speaking to people in plain English at their “wine level” – frankly we had little other choice in the early days.
We found that people responded really well – often with a palpable sense of relief. For some of our customers I think they’ve liked the sense that we’re on the learning journey too. I trust you all to let me know if we start losing sight of our roots!
It’s driven my recruiting decisions too. I always look for people who know how to look after other people and make them feel comfortable. It could be because we’re a hybrid merchant/bar, or it could be because we’re in Padstow. But those traits seem to be much more important than their wine knowledge. We can teach staff about wine but it’s hard to teach people to be nice, friendly and approachable.
From our third edition of 2018:
Even in spite of the general tomfoolery that some of us routinely display, our customers really do seem to trust us to help guide them to a great wine that they’re likely to enjoy (thank goodness for Kate and the rest of the team). What tips would you offer our customers to help them get the very best out of their wine when drinking at home?
Can I give you a weird one? It’s something that may help you guide people as much and people be guided. One of the great myths – and I absolutely believe this – is that people are on a quest to find the finest, grandest, greatest value-for-money wine they can. Actually, I think people are far more motivated by a fear of disappointment than a determination to maximise pleasure. Great tasting notes, analysis and food matching don’t help people in those circumstances. What really matters is a personal promise, a solemn oath that the human being in front of you endorses this choice. And that it’s right for the occasion. We match wine to occasion more than anything. Am I relaxing with my partner with this? Impressing a friend? Looking for a gastronomic treat? Seeking adventure? What’s really helpful is for someone – like you and your team –to say “in those circumstance, this is what I would do”. That really makes a difference.
Wise words from Joe. We completely buy into the concept of the “personal promise – a solemn oath” philosophy. It underpins the way we buy all of our wines – do we like them? Can we all get behind them? There’s no “padding” on our shelves – nothing bought in bulk even if the wine was a bit average but the price was right. No “manager’s special” against which the team have sales targets. Rather our philosphy is summed up by our Wines We Love approach. We give free rein to one of the team and ask them to pick a wine they love then write a bit about it so we can share it with you and give you an honest pointer. Authenticity is the word that has been rattling around in my head – that’s what I hope sets us apart.
From our second edition of 2018:
Natural wine – I’m deeply sceptical. Champions of natural wine say that it is the purest expression of the grape. I say a raw potato might be the purest expression of a spud but development over time has proven to my satisfaction that it tastes better when it’s baked and slathered in butter! Am I missing something? Am I a philistine? Guide me wise one…
“Some of the loveliest bottles I’ve had have been natural wines. And unquestionably most of the worst wines I’ve ever had have been natural wines. And that’s their problem. And their charm. If you’re an enthusiast – or at least a particular sort of enthusiast – there’s a great excitement about finding one of those magic wine moments. And when natural wine is good it’s quite extraordinarily good. But most of us want a basic level of assurance that a bottle of wine you’ve spent a half decent sum of money on isn’t going to take like a cross between horse urine and cider vinegar. And natural wine often can’t give you that assurance. I don’t belong to that sort of fundamentalist sect that necessarily believes that because it’s natural it’s good. And what really infuriates me is when people say, “you just don’t understand it”. Of course, I do you complete clown. It just tastes like I’ve been sick in my mouth.”
Unsurprisingly Joe puts it much better than me. He’s summed up nicely why I’ve found it hard to get behind natural wines in a big way. It’s just too much of a gamble for me to ask you to take when you’re spending a reasonable chunk of money with us. That variation from one bottle to the next, often variation in quality between bottles in the same case of six, is just a bit too much uncertainty for my liking. Biodynamic wines however… now that’s a different matter all together! But what does biodynamic even mean? Read more…
From our first edition of 2018:
Thanks for joining us, Joe. 2017 saw the double whammy of an historically poor harvest in most of Europe and the fall of the pound following BREXIT. We’re now seeing the associated price increases flow through from suppliers. We love a “new find” at BinTwo and relish getting behind wines from less well known origins. Any top tips on where we should look to find great value, interesting wines in 2018?
“This is an interesting one. It’s not a fashionable view, but I think the poor harvest is a bigger issue than the value of the pound. Volumes in 2017 are down 30%, 40%… more in some places. It was an extraordinary vintage. And so early too. I was meeting producers last year who’d harvested in July and August rather than September. That will push up prices, but more importantly, push us all into new regions.
The Pound feels low, and is lower than we’ve been used to it. But it’s not much lower than the average value against the Euro between 2010 and 2014. But the duty escalator and coupled with the rising pound between 2014 to 2016 means we’ve really felt the return to a that lower level with a serious bump. I blame government tax policy more than Brexit for that pain. What really matters is finding interesting wines now.
My gut feel is that Eastern Europe and Australia are two early winners. Those semi-aromatic whites like Furmint blends from Slovenia or straight Furmints from Hungary. New lighter and fresher whites and tamer premium reds from Australia too, filling in the gaps left by Chianti Classico or Macon where vintages have been rough. I suspect varieties to look out for are Verdejo, Vermentino, Bobal and all sorts from Aus. There are some great Fianos and fresh Chardonnays and I loved the different styles of Shiraz at the recent Australia Day Tastings in London.”
Footnote: we took this advice to heart at this year’s tastings and have some cracking finds heading to the BinTwo shelves including some knock-out (and great value) wines from Australia. Watch this space..
Entirely reasonably you might be wondering why my head has suddenly appeared on a wine label and how I could consider naming a fabulous wine from Bordeaux something as off-the-wall as “Jammy Git”. Allow me to explain…
I’ve had cause to be a bit reflective of late. Call it age (my 50th birthday suddenly doesn’t feel too far away) but I’ve pondered about the circuitous route that led us into life in Cornwall and ownership of a rather nice little wine shop. When I break it all down it’s true to say that we’ve worked hard, we’ve created a few opportunities and we’ve been willing to take a chance here and there… to make a few brave choices… to take the plunge if you will.
But we’ve also been very lucky. Lucky with some of the opportunities that arose at just the right moment and lucky with the people we’ve met along the way. And the development of our “Jammy Git” wine range is a case in point.
The name “Jammy Git” is a playful nod to the serendipity that led us into ownership of BinTwo nearly five years ago and the general, all-round jamminess that we have broadly enjoyed since. Customers often comment about how lucky I am to do what I do. And, whilst it’s often hard work, I can’t disagree.
I suppose I’m also allowing myself to have some fun with the branding (call it my fifth “business birthday” present to myself). We could have produced something serious and austere… but that’s not really us. I’m also following a hunch that customers might enjoy something more playful than another label featuring a generic picture of a chateau or a horse pulling a plough. Time will tell…
Some people make a career out of searching the globe for small pockets of extraordinary wines. With characteristic good luck our first contender for a BinTwo branded wine presented itself to us on our first visit to a Bordeaux vineyard. It’s made by Mark Hellyar – a winemaker who’s become a good friend over the years – he’s our kind of people. He’s a Cornishman making some extraordinary wines in Bordeaux with a contemporary touch – he’s not been afraid to shake up tradition. As I said, he’s our kind of people.
In 2014 (our first year at the helm of BinTwo) we visited Mark’s vineyard, Chateau Civrac in Côtes de Bourg. It was the first vineyard I visited as someone “in the trade” and I was mesmerised. Mark had been playing with the idea of making a range of high-end, limited edition varietal wines and he had the very best of his 2012 Merlot gently maturing in just one large barrel. He drew me a sample from the barrel. We tasted it right there in his small winery – largely unchanged since the 18th century. It still had some aging to do but it was clear he was onto a winner. “I’ll have some of that when it’s ready” said I. And so my first purchase direct from the winemaker was made. In the end it was so good I took it all.
Aged for 14 months in a two-year-old French oak barrel this cracking wine has developed great character. Plummy, slightly smoky with a rich, soft texture and lingering finish. It’s a very easy-drinking wine that would go down well on it’s own or with a few nibbles. Equally it has enough about it to pair well with food. I like mine with barbequed meats, but to be honest, I love it so much I’d be happy to match it to a bag of Monster Munch – it’s a wine I’ll turn to whatever the occasion.
It’s my hope that this Merlot won’t be the last Jammy Git wine (customer feedback and sales will determine that!) What Jammy Git wines will have in common is a certain authenticity. By which I mean they will be wines that I feel we have a genuine connection with. We’ll have met the winemaker, visited the vineyard, understood their ethos. Maybe even have had a small part in the development of the wine.
I may not always be able to tell you that only one barrel of the wine was made and we have it (although that is the case with our Jammy Git Merlot) but I will be able to look you in the eye and tell you that I haven’t bought a blank bottled, mass produced wine and slapped our label on it in order to maximise profits.
Nope, they’ll be good, honest wines. Wines that I love that I think you’ll love too. Wines priced fairly with no massive “own label” margins applied. Wines that have been made by winemakers I believe in with an ethos I can get behind. I wouldn’t put my name, or indeed my face, on anything else.
When I returned from my visit to Mark’s vineyard in 2014 I wrote a blog, re-posted here, that might go some way to explaining more about why there could only ever really be one choice for our first BinTwo wine.
Why a Bordeaux Special you ask (& a two page bumper edition no less!)
For no better reason than the fact that Mary, the boys & I have just returned from a trip exploring this legendary winemaking region & I’ve fallen in love with the place. Who could blame me – just look at these luscious Merlot grapes at Château Civrac just begging to be picked & transformed into a Grand Vin. They’re so beautiful it’s positively indecent!
Bordeaux is, of course, the largest wine region in France both in terms of production (9000 producers making about 800 million bottles per year) & vineyard acreage (the region has a whopping 300 thousand acres of vineyards!) I was aware of these huge numbers but to be honest they meant little to me until I saw the seemingly endless landscape of pristine vines.
How lucky that the most prolific agricultural crop in Bordeaux also happens to produce such a mesmerizingly seductive landscape. You will have gathered by now that I have developed somewhat of a crush for the area.
Highpoints of this new romance would have to include the time we spent in St Emilion. Aside from producing some of the best wine in the region this perfectly-preserved medieval hilltop town is simply beautiful. So taken in was I that I made easy prey for fellow wine merchant Hugo Stefanski who shamelessly upsold me on a selection of wines including a probably over-priced Pomerol made by a tiny producer who’s managed to hold on to just 1 acre of land next door to Pétrus – the big boys in the region (they recently offered him 2 million euros for it apparently). You think I’d be immune to this kind of blatant sales patter but I was powerless to resist!
Eating fresh oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon with a glass of white Bordeaux Graves at a beach shack on Cap Ferret will live long in the memory. But my fondest memories are of the time we spent at Château Civrac with Cornishman turned Bordeaux winemaker Mark Hellyar.
Many of you will know the story of how he rescued a neglected Château & vineyard near Bourg sur Gironde & you may have tasted his wines at BinTwo. Certainly it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Mark’s work but visiting his vineyard (& we were honoured to discover that we were his very first visitors) really brought his inspiring story to life.
Winemaking, as I witnessed, is blooming hard graft & Mark is right in the thick of it. The winery dates back to the late 18th century & remains largely unchanged. The early 20th century saw the addition of concrete storage tanks as used by Pétrus (fantastic for maintaining stable storage conditions) & Mark has grafted on the bare minimum of 21st century technology to improve electronic temperature & quality control. But otherwise his processes remain remarkably traditional – if a small-scale, minimal intervention, high quality artisan wine is your thing then stop looking.
Walking through the unassuming door to the winery at Château Civrac feels like taking a little step back in history & we feel very privileged to have been allowed to take it. Thanks Mark – keep up the good work!
Here at BinTwo we love dogs… L-O-V-E them! We’ve always welcomed them on the terrace as well as in the shop and even provide a little drink for our canine buddies. The word is obviously out as we’ve seen a growth in the number of four legged customers who come and visit us. Our pooch pals rarely cause us any problems. Here we speak to The Great Rustini, canine chum of our good friend Sean, about how they should make sure that their humans behave…
“Mr Great Rustini, thanks for joining us. That’s quite a mouthful of a name by the way”.
“No problem and you can blame my human. I mean, WHO would give a dog a name better suited to a magician? Just call me Rusty.”
“Thanks Rusty. And I’m glad you touched on the eccentric behaviour of humans. Y’see… we need to talk.”
“So I’m not in trouble? I thought it might be about when I was last in your place. I was a bit sandy from the beach and had to… clean myself up.”
“No – it’s not that. We welcome your… personal hygiene. You’re a dog – licking… everywhere is what you do. I just need you to have a word with your human. They love you very much and sometimes it makes them do things that seem a little… a little bit…”
“A little bit mad?”
“No! Not mad… obviously. Clearly that’s not what I meant to suggest, Rusty!”
“Well you should. They’re bonkers – all of them. I mean, there’s a range of nuttiness, but they’re all on the fruit loop scale somewhere.”
“Look – that’s not what I’m saying, I just meant -“
“Seriously – they are! My mate from down the park… his humans have created his own Facebook page! They write posts in his name and everything. All a bit offensive really – full of lots of canine stereotypes. And the outfits they make him wear for his profile photos – you wouldn’t believe the trauma they put him through. He hates Christmas – all those silly hats and the Christmas cards to his mates signed “from Max” – bonkers…”
“Riiiiight. Anyway, I’m definitely not suggesting that you and your mates’ humans are in any way mad. My point is that they just love you all very much and occasionally… very, very occasionally, some of them lose sight of the fact that not all humans love you as much as them…”
“So you hate dogs then.”
“NO! I love dogs! Especially you obviously. But some folk are allergic to dogs (my wife included) and some people just don’t want to play with you like your owners do. I’ve got to look out for those sorts of humans too so we need a few simple rules”.
“I get it – I mean you and all the other dog haters out there have a massive hole where your soul should be, but I get it… and have you thought about finding a new wife?”
“I DO NOT HATE DOGS! (and yes, frequently)”
“Alright – keep your hair on. I’m just kidding – I get what you mean. Down on the beach the other day there was this dog who was jumping all over a little kid. Kid was clearly terrified and the dog’s human turned up laughing saying the dog was “only being friendly” – that’s not on is it?”
“Exactly that – that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about!”
“Honestly we can get away with anything… A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. As long as I stick my tongue out, smile and wag my tail then I’m untouchable. My human would let me off with eating that kid on the beach as long as I looked cheerful while I’m doing it. Right – what rules shall we agree then? We like coming to your gaff. Not everywhere welcomes us and, in fairness, you’re pretty cool about letting us in alongside everyone else. I’ll have a word with my mates in the park – in between a bit of important sniffing of each other obviously – and we’ll get the message through to our humans. Shoot”
“Thanks Rusty – I’d appreciate that. It’s really awkward when we raise it – your humans love you so much they sometimes take it personally. OK – first up we’d like you to be kept on your lead and under control. Clearly I know that you’re the boss in the canine/human relationship…”
“You’re damn right I am”
“… but you and your friends tend to go exploring when you’re off the lead and that means us and others might step on you or trip over you when we’re charging around serving people. Also we’ve had some dogs come wandering round behind the counter and into the food preparation area. I mean, who doesn’t like a Scooby Snack but that’s not on”.
“Well that one’s obvious – I imagine it’s creates some issues with your food hygiene inspections. No problemo. Rule number one – we stay on the lead and under control. Got it… go on.”
“You’re right about the food hygiene inspections. I have had one dog owner explain to me that canine saliva is cleaner than human saliva but the county council don’t really see it that way. Secondly, and this is the one that really upsets some of your humans, we’d like you to stay off the seats unless your owner’s brought some sort of blanket or other cover for you”.
“Hmmm. Not sure about this. I sit on the sofa at home and it’s damn comfy. The floor at your place – well… it’s not”
“I get it. I really do. But that’s your home and your human’s choice. A lot of people come into BinTwo all dressed up ready for a nice night out and they shouldn’t really have to worry about getting covered in hair. And, before you jump in, I know you’re not a breed that sheds hair. Nonetheless some people feel it’s not really hygienic for you to be sitting on the seats as your… your bits are obviously all a bit… naked. We’ve also had some damage with claws tearing the upholstery and it’s not cheap to fix when that happens”.
“OK. Can’t say I’m happy about it, but I get where you’re coming from. I’ll sort them out – they won’t give you any hassle. Rule number two – we stay off the seats. Anything else?”
“Just one thing more and you’ve already touched on it Rusty. It’s just asking your humans to be thoughtful and to not let you be a bother to other customers. Some people will love you just as much as your humans. But not everyone will. Some people are even… cat people”.
“Yes, I know. Anyway, it’s that scenario you spoke about on the beach. Some people are wary of dogs. Hard to believe I know, but true. They might be happy to say a friendly hello but they don’t want to play. Just occasionally your humans are so in love with you they don’t read the signs from other people. Can you help?”
“OK. So if I’ve got this right, we’re talking about three rules:
1. I stay on a lead and under control.
2. I stay off the seats.
3. I don’t bother people who don’t want to play.
Is that it?”
“Yep – it’s that simple”
“And if me, my mates and our humans stick to those we can all still come into the shop and hang out? You’ll give us the water and everything?”
“Well that seems fair. Deal!”
“Thanks Rusty. The moment you walked in I could tell you were a smart cookie. Now just go and sell the plan to you human for me”.
“Done – mine is a particularly odd one though isn’t he?”
“You’re damn right”.