Turning 18 again

Today, I am feeling nostalgic. This year Trembath & Taylor turns 18. Not old, but in the wine industry that’s like dog years. In 1994, following two years in Milano, Michael Trembath and Virginia Taylor returned to Australia and established their business, specialising in the wines of Italy. Their office was on level one of the historic George Hotel in St Kilda and I started working at the Melbourne Wine Room on the ground level. At the time, I knew very little about wine, let alone Italian wine, yet something with these two people resonated with me. I was fascinated by their passion, enthusiasm and knowledge of the wines of Italy and it wasn’t long before I was learning Tuscany before Barossa Valley. I knew then that one day we’d end up working together and its been a wonderful journey.

Most of the wineries that they started with back then still form the basis of what we do today: Bellavista, Pieropan, Speri, Jermann, Bortoluzzi, Bollini, Marcarini, Conterno Fantino, Monte Antico, Brancaia and Poggerino. In our 18th year, the portfolio will grow to 60 wineries from 16 of Italy’s twenty regions and we anticipate each vintage as keenly as we did the first.

Italian wine has come a long way since 1994. The dark days of raffia wrapped Chianti bottles and jug Soave are long gone, but there is still a long way to go. Quality wise, the wines are there, but the market perception is not. If I ever work out why, I’ll let you know, but Italian wines don’t yet enjoy the credibility of their neighbours across the Alps. Every day, I view Italy as a learning experience with hundreds of grape varieties and regions to discover, from the local wine of a small village in the middle of nowhere to the grandi cru. Its a great job and the working relationship we share is unique. Then there are the relationships with the growers themselves, whose dedication to making authentic wine is inspiring and their generosity humbling.

Locally though, how times have changed. In 1994, importers imported the wine, wholesalers distributed the wine and retailers sold the wine. That model is now completely on its head as the various streams of business cross over. Its a new age and things change fast, which is why it is good to look back at those wineries that have been with us for the journey. Overnight success right?! The wide selection of Italian wines available in Australia now is staggering, given the scale of our market in comparison to the rest of the world. It is too much for sure, but now everyone wants a piece of Italy.

In my tasting group last week, we tasted a selection of cheap (under $25) wines from the South of Italy. There was a red and a white wine (about $10 retail each) that was, to me, rather ordinary. Others around the table thought they were good value for money, but I struggle to see the commercial point in shipping such wines. A customer spending 10 bucks is not looking for anything other than spending 10 bucks, whether it be something Italian or Australian. So why does the supplier buy it? Because their heart is in Italian wine? Nah, its simply a commodity to boost the bottom line.

The wine business, to me, seems to be heading in two directions. Its a two speed economy, just like other industries are experiencing, and the problem seems to be in clarifying the differences to the consumer. What’s the difference between Pieropan’s Soave and one from the co-op? Plenty, but getting the message across is a different beast, especially when people are buying solely on price.

This is not a complaint, just a comment on where things are at. I’m lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world, working with great people every day.

We recently discovered an old lift-out of Epicure from 1994 and I love this photo of Michael and Virginia. Michael looks all Yale professor-like with his bushy growth and Gin as if she has just stepped out of the Museum of Modern Art. Yep, its a great job.