We don’t use big brands in our tastings!!” The use of two exclamation marks by a “leading European wine education specialist” in a recent Facebook thread was obviously a stylistic tic – and very much in keeping with his views on what he collectively wrote off as “bulk commercial, very average quality wines!”. He went on to say that “We would never even mention the likes of a J C [presumably Jacob’s Creek] Chardonnay let alone show it!! Commercially styled to a mass market certainly; well made certainly not!!”

This broad-minded wine educator – whom I’ll call W.E. for the sake of brevity – would presumably have hated the (excellent) Tim Atkin Decanter interview with Sir George Fistonich of Villa Maria. I shudder to think what he would have made of the affable Kiwi’s frank admission that he liked to produce wines people enjoyed drinking rather than the “dry wines for 0.05%”.

What firstly bothered me about W.E’s attitude was the notion that someone who sets themselves up as a teacher could choose simply to ignore vast chunks of his subject. I presume that, were he to teach art, he’d “never even mention” Koons or Hirst and as a lecturer on music, he’d blank out all reference to Lloyd Webber. I actually challenged him on how he managed to teach sherry or port without going near Lustau, Gonzalez Byass, Toylor’s or Dow’s; Spanish wine without Torres or Riscal; or Champagne without Ruinart or Pol Roger, suggesting that to do so would be a little like covering US geography without reference to New York or San Francisco. This did not go down well. He said it was “a ludicrous parallel…and unnecessarily insulting” and declared that he would “not engage any further.”

W.E.’s frustration with my refusal to join his “anti-supermarket/bulk commercial wines stance” will strike a chord with others, I’m sure. And I can think of a fair few “bulk commercial wines” Tim Atkin would like to see disappear from supermarket shelves. But to tar all “big brands” with the same negative brush is a very different matter. It smacks horribly of Orwell’s piggy chanting of “Four legs good, two legs bad”. I also challenged W.E. over whether he had actually tasted “JC Chardonnay” recently – as I had a number of consumers and professionals do  – blind – earlier in the year. He did not respond, and presumably dismissed my report on their favourable reactions as yet more pro-“bulk commercial” propaganda.

W.E. is probably an excellent teacher and is certainly welcome to his sincerely held prejudices – sorry, I meant to say views – but as we head into  year that’s likely to be tough for all sizes of wine producer, I wish that he and others like him would stop setting off internal squabbles. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing “small v big”; “indie v supermarket”; “natural v industrial”; “Old World v New”. If you like it and approve of the way it’s made and sold, that’s terrific. If it’s made of grapes and gives the person who’s bought it pleasure – and they’re not forcing you to drink it, well, as far as I’m concerned in a season of goodwill, that’s terrific too. 

Happy New Year!

  1. @VictordelaSerna wrote
    'Frankly, I'm sick of hearing “small v big”; “indie v supermarket”; “natural v industrial”; “Old World v New”,' says @robertjoseph. Me too

  2. David Holstrom wrote via Facebook I completely agree. I find myself tuning out to much of the back and forth in the wine biz for exactly the reasons you state. After 30 years in this business – it is beginning to lose its charm.

  3. While I agree with your views, Robert, there is one type of commercial wine which I believe does wine a disservice: the coffee/chocolate reds (mainly, though not exclusively, made from pinotage in South Africa) and I've even come across a vanilla white. These concoctions (I hesitate to call them wines) use heavily toasted staves for their flavour, the grapes, apart from the alcohol, are seemingly superfluous. They have been and still are popular with a certain winedrinking sector but I – and others – really hope they soon dsappear. They're not cheap either. Many of the commercial brands are at least honest, decent, taste of fruit and offer an enjoyable wine-drinking experience.

  4. Great little article Robert. We should never forget just how hard commercial winemakers work either. They do a remarkable job given that for them vintage can last 3-4 months, compared to the relative ease of 2-4 weeks for small producers, and work bloody hard outside of that as they constantly prepare blends for bottling. Diligent blenders are currently far less trendy, and perhaps seen as less authentic, than producers of wines from specific sites. But that's where we are right now. Lovely though piece.

  5. Thanks Justin. I guess I am even more positive in my views of commercial winemakers than some people thanks to my experience of working with the team at Celliers Jean d'Gilbert who produce our Grand Noir wines, of which we sell around a million bottles or year

  6. Really good article, Robert. Particularly as I still remember a Diploma class where we had to match a few blind chardonnays to well-known styles and half the class had the Jacobs Creek Chardonnay pegged as a decent Chablis as it was fresh, well-balanced, with crisp fruit flavours. Certainly reminded me of the importance of trying to stay as unprejudiced as possible, if only to increase the potential pool of drinks to enjoy!

  7. It reminds me of a WSET teacher who, when we wrinkled our noses at tasting white zin, reminded us that it takes a lot of skill to make millions of bottles of this each year at a consistent level.

  8. Dear all, Thanks for the positive comments from many re Jacob's Creek. All are welcome to taste at the Australia Day tasting to acquaint/re-acquaint themselves with the wines. The thread of the piece and comments remind me of what James Halliday wrote for his Wine Companion and indeed what Jancis Robinson wrote a couple of years ago about Jacob's Creek Chardonnays and Rieslings.




    Adrian Atkinson

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