Artikkeleita kategoriasta: Ihmiset / In English / Viiniarviot
Francesco Ricasoli interview, part two
Tommi | 17.3.2014

In the first part of the interview, Francesco Ricasoli (owner of the Barone Ricasoli estate in Chianti Classico) spoke about his background, how he purchased the old family winery back with his sisters in 1993, and how far the estate has come since. In this second part, the friendly baron discusses his wines, the new Gran Selezione denomination and the importance of terroir as well as serves a welcome reminder of the sometimes limited perspective of wine “experts”.

I have also included my brief notes on the Ricasoli wines that were on offer at the tasting arranged some months ago at Restaurant Nokka in Helsinki. Enjoy!

Fancy a tour of the Brolio castle? (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: Let’s finally talk about the wines. Is there a recognizable house style you are seeking to promote or is it more about the appellation?

A: When we are talking about this topic, we are naturally talking mostly about Sangiovese [i.e. the traditional main grape in the Chianti region]. The appellation as such does not really give you a strong identity to track. Therefore we are following our own style, while there is of course a link between some of the Sangioveses as this grape shows different characteristics in different parts of Chianti Classico. Definitely, we are looking more into the kind of Sangiovese that delivers pleasure, length and elegance more than a huge body and structure. The texture and intensity are important, but only when combined with elegance, length and balance. For me this is key. And in the end, it’s of course about the pleasure of drinking wine instead of just tasting it.

Regarding balance, we are now facing the problem of having too much alcohol in the wines. How we can balance this is an interesting question. Considering that most of our vineyards are still quite young I think that each year we will get more and more satisfaction out of them.

Q: How are you tackling climate change – which is also related to alcohol levels?

A: I don’t really know because the changes we have made have a much bigger effect than climate change. Better handling of the clones, higher density of the vines, lower yields, more careful vinification… How much do they contribute to the characteristics of the wines – such as alcohol levels – and what is the effect of climate change? It’s very difficult to say. In vintages such as this one [i.e. the somewhat challenging 2013] – because it’s almost like the old times – we’ll have to wait and see even though we now have all those things I mentioned working for us.

Q: Would you describe your wines as traditionalist or modern, or something in between?

A: Depends on what you mean by traditional.

Q: Let’s say we are comparing to the Chianti style of the 1970’s or 1980’s. The new technology makes it possible to manipulate the wine more by enhancing extraction, softening it already before it reaches the bottle and so on…

A: Then I’ll definitely say our wines are modern. Everything has changed and the wines have a different character. However, the link with the past is Sangiovese. Maybe we make the wines in a different way now, but still they’re Sangiovese. And most importantly: it’s Sangiovese you cannot replicate elsewhere.

The wines of today must be technically well-made because the consumer nowadays has hundreds or even thousands of wine regions to choose from. It’s really a matter of style. Some are fond of Malbec – nothing wrong with that – and others love the spiciness and acidity of Sangiovese and the new Chianti style. But in the end, my competitor is really not Chilean or Californian or French – it’s my neighbour, my friend next door. A consumer chooses our [Chianti Classico] wine because he or she wants that kind of specific taste. A Sangiovese produced anywhere else in the world has a different taste. Good or bad, but different.

Q: This touches upon a very good point you made during the tasting and it’s also something many people – including myself – have not really thought about in depth. If you have a typical Tuscan blend in front of you, with the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Sangiovese, the straightforward assumption is often that these other varieties should contribute to the blend some of that typical, fruit-forward and powerful New World style. But, instead they are really Tuscan Merlot and Tuscan Cabernet.

A: Yes, and this is key! Even the so called wine experts and writers don’t understand – or don’t want to understand – this concept. Presumably they have been tasting mostly varietal wines and not enough terroir wines.

I really invite you to taste our Casalferro because it’s a real cru. A 100% Merlot, but a Merlot that has been turned completely upside down and one you would never believe to be 100% Merlot. It’s a Tuscan Merlot and has some of the basic characteristics of the variety but at the same time a lot of freshness and acidity that typically don’t belong to Merlot. But they belong to our soil and culture – and Sangiovese. I warmly recommend this wine – the 2010 is fantastic and you will probably be surprised by the strength of the terroir in this wine. I mean, I could blend this with our Sangiovese and it probably wouldn’t distract the harmony, but if you’d get a typical varietal Merlot from Alko it would totally kill the balance. Blending is not a matter of percentages, but of what you are blending.

[Casalferro is currently not distributed in Finland, but is available e.g. in some of the online wine stores focused on Italian wine]

Q: This is certainly a revelation to many people as it’s not the way most are used to thinking about blending.

A: The rule of the Consorzio is that Chianti Classico can only be made with a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese [and up to 100%] and a maximum of 20% of certain other varieties. It is a completely wrong way to rule Chianti Classico!

It’s not a chemical process where you add percentages together. You should put the rules into the vineyards and not into the wine – rule where the vineyards can and should be. There are of course soils that are not well adapted to Sangiovese and so in that sense it’s already too late, but if you’d really want to take things seriously you’d first need to define the ideal soil for Chianti Classico and then say: ok – you must have 80% of Sangiovese and 20% of other varieties in your vineyard, but if you’re not happy with your Sangiovese in a given year you could then produce a Chianti Classico with 50% Merlot. But only if your vineyard is in the right spot. It is of course a completely different philosophy, but it really makes a difference.  In my opinion, forcing percentages in wine is not right.

Q: So how do you feel about the new DOCG Chianti Classico Gran Selezione appellation?

[Gran Selezione is a new denomination “above” the Chianti Classic Riserva, required to be made exclusively from a winery’s own grapes grown in its finest vineyards according to strict regulations. In addition to having the chemical and organoleptic characteristics of premium quality wines, Gran Selezione can be marketed only after a minimum 30-month maturation and an obligatory period of bottle refinement.]

A: I am in the board of the consortium so I’m also responsible for the Gran Selezione. I am in favour of it because in the quality pyramid you have the Chianti Classico, the Chianti Classico Riserva, and now also the Gran Selezione. This gives a new box in which to put the highest quality made within our appellation – a good idea because here you can also put many of those IGT wines that are currently “Super Tuscans” but can now return to the Chianti Classico appellation. Chianti Classico is too often perceived as a flat commodity whereas the Super Tuscans / IGT wines are the most highly regarded, and that is of course bad for the appellation. But, time will tell.

Q: I guess it’s up to the market to decide.

A: Yes, the market and the producers. On paper it looks good but there has been a lot of shooting against this idea. I don’t understand it because it can only benefit us. We are not downgrading anything, we are upgrading. Beautiful wines are being made in this appellation, better than the ones in Montalcino – really elegant, beautiful wines. We started badly because the communication was not done too well.

Our Castello di Brolio can in theory be a Gran Selezione [and is, now that the appellation has been officially launched]. But in the end, we are not producing varietal nor appellation wines. We are producing terroir wines. When you are talking about the grand crus of the most famous wine regions, most of the consumers don’t even know where the appellation is located. Instead they know the name of the chateau. So whatever the appellation rules are – ok – but we are working hard to deliver the best possible expression of the terroir.

Francesco getting his hands (not to mention a pair of white trousers) dirty. (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: One final question on your wines: What is your single favourite Ricasoli wine?

A: I really cannot say as it depends on the mood.

Q: And how about the estate – visits, contacts… I’ve understood you get quite a lot of visitors.

A: Yes, and we have a lot of information on the website. We also have a popular restaurant but no accommodation which is abundant in the surrounding area: Siena, Florence, Chianti… plenty of choices from Relais Chateaux to simple B&B. We have a museum, different tastings and different tours so you can easily stay in Brolio for a whole day.

Q: Sounds good! Many thanks for the interview.

A: Same to you and my best regards to all Finnish wine lovers.


Among the wines I got to taste were the following examples of Ricasoli’s production.

Albia Rosé 2012 (see here, IGT Toscana, available in Alko’s order selection)

Delicate pink in colour, but rather rich and (to my personal taste) somewhat high in alcohol (13.5 vol-%). Sangiovese.

Torricella 2012 (see here, white, IGT Toscana)

Well executed Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc blend. Mineral, fresh, seems to even contain some tannin. Will certainly age well. The 13.5 vol-%  alcohol is well balanced in this one.

Chianti 2012 (see here)

Recognisable Chianti aromas of cherry, light dustiness, youthful tannins and nice acidity. Somewhere between the ultra-modern and more traditional styles with a hint of spiciness to top it all up.

Brolio Chianti Classico 2011 (see here, the 2010 available in Alko)

Compared to the basic Chianti shows some classy oak on the nose. Also slightly darker and much more versatile in character. Requires more time and a lot of the underlying potential is lost when drunk this young. Will shine in 5+ years. Delicious stuff and good value for money.

Rocca Guicciardia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 (see here)

The additional ageing required by the Riserva denomination does not come through on the nose. Certainly rather good but, as is often the case within the Riserva category, the value-added provided by the higher price compared to the Brolio Chianti Classico is not too apparent to me.

Castello di Brolio 2008 (see here, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione, the 2010 is available in Alko’s order selection)

Still quite closed on the nose, but surprisingly easy on the palate. New vines have produced this fruity wine that does not exhibit the typical sensation of dust. Somehow resembles certain high-quality Aussie or Californian Cabernets that are made in a more elegant style (yes, they do exist – although often at 100 euros per bottle).

Castello di Brolio 2003 (see here)

A vintage produced by a superhot summer. Heavier, darker, even a bit volcanic in character. Somewhat stingy on the palate, perhaps due to the higher alcohol content. However, not overripe and can take on several more years of bottle age. A bit shorter than the 2008.

Castello di Brolio 2001 (see here)

Both new and old vines, cement vats used. Already nicely orange-tinted on the rim and emitting delicious tertiary aromas. Has an amazing structure more than a decade from bottling and will age graciously for another. My favourite of the three Castello di Brolios.

Granello 2011 (see here, sweet, IGT Toscana)

Made with the traditional passito method from grapes that have been dried for one month to concentrate the aromas and increase the sugar content. Mainly Sauvignon Blanc but the blend contains also small quantities of Chardonnay, Traminer, Riesling… No oak, no botrytis. Very fresh and acidic with straightforward fruit. Tasty.

Castello di Brolio Vin Santo (Chianti Classico) 2005 (see here)

Trademark amber in colour. High in viscosity with heavy legs. The saliva-inducing aroma cloud exhibits nuts, dried fruit and slight oxidation. On the palate the sugar and high alcohol is nicely balanced by sufficient acidity. The somewhat drier style compared to many of its peers enables Ricasoli’s Vin Santo to better display its underlying personality.


So there you go. Many thanks to importer Vinetum for arranging the tasting and the interview.

All of my English language articles and interviews can be found here. Share your experiences here or on our Facebook page and remember to follow us on Twitter and Instagram!


Francesco Ricasoli interview, part one
Tommi | 4.3.2014

Some months ago I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Francesco Ricasoli of the Tuscan quality producer Barone Ricasoli, the oldest winery in the whole of Italy – i.e. old. After an interesting tasting at one of Helsinki’s nicest restaurants, Restaurant Nokka, Francesco was kind enough to sacrifice 45 minutes of his busy schedule for an interview. The man proved out to be a pleasure to chat with – reminiscent in character of Michel Laroche whom I also had the opportunity to meet in late 2013 (see the story here, in Finnish only).

Alko, the state-owned Finnish retail monopoly for all alcoholic beverages above 4.7% abv, currently lists one Barone Ricasoli wine in its basic selection, namely the Brolio Chianti Classico. The order selection additionally features the house rosé. My brief tasting notes on these and some of Ricasoli’s other labels will be included in the second part of the interview.

I also took some photos of Francesco after the interview with the camera I had borrowed from home. Unfortunately enough I was using the mean machine for the first time and, not surprisingly, failed miserably. Therefore, instead of suffering from my artistic output you now have a chance to enjoy some higher-quality photos I was kindly allowed to use by the producer.

Living history: Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd Baron of Brolio (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: Let’s start with history. Barone Ricasoli is Italy’s oldest winery and one of the oldest companies in the world. How does it feel to carry this long history on your shoulders – does it make things easier or more difficult? Is there more pressure?

A: Well, a little bit of everything. But you know, I didn’t start my professional career in this business and therefore I consider myself a little bit lucky because I gained my experience elsewhere and entered this business with a more open view – like a blank piece of paper on which to write.

I also did it in abnormal circumstances since when I bought the company back in 1993, everything was in really bad condition after 20 years of foreign ownership and I didn’t really have time to think about the history and tradition. Instead there were a lot of urgent priorities. It was really a mess and the company went through the Italian version of Chapter 11 (reorganization under the bankruptcy laws of the US). My approach was passionate as we knew we were saving something special.

Having said that, when things settled down I started to really understand the value from a historical point of view. Of course the history, family traditions etc. are very important but they will not make you survive in today’s competitive environment. So it’s something that helps if the other things are already in your pocket. Sure, it’s better to have it than not – but I wasn’t thinking about it because a good team, a well-made product and investments that needed to be done were much more important. Now that we are competitive and sailing in much calmer waters than before we can also underline the historical role that we’ve had in the past.

Today I feel certain responsibility of something that doesn’t belong to me and is instead part of our culture and Italian heritage. Little by little I have been buying more shares from the family and so today the I’m almost the sole owner – which I don’t really realize, you know.

Q: Just to get it right – the company was sold in the 1970’s and then…

A: Yes – brand names, trademarks, winery, everything – but not the land. So when I started in ‘93, I practically put all the risk into the operations. Since I and my sisters inherited the rest I have been gradually buying also their shares.

Q: Tell us a little bit of your professional background. You just mentioned you didn’t have any wine experience before entering the business.

A: I studied economics but never finished the university. Instead I became a professional photographer and did it for more than 12 years. So yes, nothing to do with wine.

Q: It’s certainly an unusual background.

A: Yes, but in a certain way it also helps. As I said, I started free of any preconceptions and took also very tough decisions, not following the conventional rules of this business. And it worked.

Q: So what comes next?

A: Consolidation and fine-tuning. I don’t want to make things bigger – I think this is now a beautiful estate – instead the focus is now on doing things better and more refined. The investments we have made are still young and they need time to become to fruition. The potential is really high.

Q: Have you thought about the next generation? Do you have children?

A: I have a 19-year-old daughter that is going to study law. But she will soon start getting involved, a little bit, to understand what it is all about. We’ll see, only time will tell.

Q: For a company of your size and status there must be interested buyers calling you and asking whether you would be willing to sell up.

A: Yes.

Q: Is your goal to remain a family company for the foreseeable future?

A: For the moment, yes. No doubt, we are receiving all kinds of requests, but I don’t care. Money – what do you do with money?

Q: I guess you would need to know what else to do with it.

A: Exactly. This place is a real jewel and a success story, from being forgotten and in really bad condition to being elevated to where we are now, still performing well in our category. Several university theses have already been based on this case. We are a medium-sized winery producing good results and investing a lot, also in research. This keeps the team active and also very loyal – many have been there since the beginning, which is good for quality and continuity.

The Brolio castle – yes, I certainly would. (photo: Barone Ricasoli)

Q: Let’s talk about the land then. Do you have any holdings outside Chianti?

A: No, everything is in Chianti: a very nice château and a big estate which we have replanted totally in the past 20 years. We have more than 230 hectares under vine – it’s the largest in Chianti Classico. It’s also very expensive to replant in such a rocky soil and to prepare the soil properly.

Q: Mostly Sangiovese, I suppose?

A: Mainly, yes – but also Merlot and Cabernet as well as some white varieties and experimental vineyards.

Q: And contract farmers?

A: Yes, and we also buy from completely external sources. For example, the Chianti [del Barone Ricasoli] you tasted earlier is completely outsourced in terms of grapes. Outside Siena, Maremma… We are trying to increase the amount of bought grapes because we have invested in a new cellar that can handle higher volumes. The tradition in Tuscany is to buy bulk wine, but we are moving to source better grapes instead – to control the whole process.

In terms of viticulture we are very much ahead in terms of new ideas and experiments. In the past 20 years it has changed dramatically.

Q: What kind of principles or philosophies do you follow in viticulture?

A: We are trying to understand the diversity of different exposures and different soils and to adapt ourselves accordingly. But also, we want to preserve the original morphology of the soil. In the first years of replanting we moved the soil around a lot, but nowadays we don’t do it anymore because that way – I believe – we preserve the endogenous character of a specific plot.

We are also organic in many of our vineyards already. We cannot be organic everywhere because certain things cannot be done economically. But where viable, we don’t use any chemical fertilizers but instead green manure. We also produce our own compost. We have a magnificent lab that is helping us to check what we are doing and we are providing assistance to other farmers and estates as well – so the lab is already becoming its own profit and loss centre and we are investing in new technology and people.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about your research activities. Based on what you told earlier it seemed very interesting.

A: Well, we did a research publication earlier this year about the zoning of the entire estate. This was a massive work that was done in 2008-2010 in cooperation with the University of Florence (Arezzo) and the Centre of Research in Agronomy at the National Centre of Research. We wanted to translate everything in English to make it more interesting so the publication took some time. We are very proud because this is the first time a big private estate has done such scientific zoning.

Q: That’s a huge undertaking with 230 hectares of vineyard!

A: Yes, but also very interesting because it turned out that in Brolio, we have practically all the different soil types that one can find in the entire Chianti Classico appellation. So with this research you get a nice picture of Chianti Classico. Also, there is information from the resistivity of the soil to the adaptability of different rootstock to the different soils so it’s a really deep and detailed insight into things that can be useful for an agronomist.

This has also been helping us to get a better insight into each individual vineyard to really understand the real meaning of terroir that everyone can feel in their mouth. I mean, if you say “I have a fabulous terroir”, most people don’t even know what you mean. I think the best way to describe a strong terroir is something that delivers personality and character to the wine, and this we have in some of our plots.

In three completely different vintages of 2008, 2009 and 2010 many of these plots were observed very closely. What we saw was that from these very specific plots the grapes that came into the winery were very consistent in style and character. This is really something tangible and considering how sensitive Sangiovese can be to minimal changes, it is truly amazing. This has been a very interesting discovery.

Also the clonal selection we have done is interesting. None of our wines are made with these new selections yet, but some of the microvinifications we have made have given nice and interesting results – but it will take time. At the end, if the job has been done properly we will be able to save some nice character from the “old times”: nice Sangiovese with small bunches and a little bit thicker skin, and also more interesting from an agronomical point of view.

Q: What about investments in technology – are you tech-oriented?

A: Yes. We just finished the remaining vinification cellar, which is quite basic but has certain tools that require fewer workers and at the same time give better control over what is happening. We have a central control panel on which you can separately program and control each vat – not only the temperature, but also the micro-oxygenation and punching down of the cap – plus the overall alarms and security in the entire cellar.

Overall, vinification is still done like in the old days and it’s merely the control that is much higher today. Let’s take temperature as an example: We have more than just one thermometer in each vat because one would simply not provide enough information to make the right decisions. So again, it’s the level of attention to detail that at the end of the day can make a difference.


…to be continued…


Lindauer’s secret recipe with Jane De Witt
Tommi | 3.1.2014

We start the new year with an interesting interview of Jane De Witt, head winemaker of the popular range of the sparkling Lindauer wines from New Zealand. While my overriding goal was to scoop out the secret behind the brand’s success from a winemaking point of view, Jane also offered interesting insights into their product development.

In my previous post you can find my tasting note on the popular Lindauer Brut Cuvée, which is certainly my favourite fizz in the 10-15 euro range (and apparently that of many others, too). But now: Jane De Witt.

Jane has received numerous awards for the Lindauer range of sparkling wines (Photo: Lindauer)

Q: When did you first get involved with Lindauer?

A: It would have been around 2002 when I went to work for [the then owner of the Lindauer brand] Montana Wines. [my note: Montana has since then been rebranded Brancott Estate]

Q: And you presumably moved with Lindauer first to Pernod Ricard and then in 2010 to the current owner Lion?

A: Yes, so I’m pretty much continuing what I was doing.

[My note: In a sequence of transactions typical to the modern era of active consolidation in the wine and spirits field, Allied Domecq first acquired Montana in 2001 and when Pernod Ricard then acquired Allied Domecq in 2005, also the Lindauer portfolio was transferred to the giant French group. In late 2010, Lion (one of Australasia’s leading beverage and food companies) together with Indevin (New Zealand’s largest independent contract winemaker) acquired Lindauer and three other (less known) NZ brands. Lion (or actually, Lion Nathan – an earlier combination of breweries Lion and Nathan) had tried to acquire the then publicly listed Montana already in 2001, but only after being merged with National Food (owned by the Japanese Kirin brewery group – belonging to the Mitsubishi keiretsu – since 2007) did it finally succeed. Confused? I bet, but hopefully on a higher level.

In the Lion-Indevin joint venture, Lion acquired Lindauer’s brands and bottling assets while Indevin acquired Lindauer’s vineyards and production assets. The arrangement between Lion and Indevin seems to allow Lion to focus on marketing and distribution and Indevin to focus on winemaking and management of the associated agricultural and production risks.

Since the closing of the transaction, Lion has unsuccessfully fought Pernod Ricard in court, mainly due to the alleged overvaluation of the acquired portfolio caused by the seller’s failure to disclose certain margin arrangements with a New Zealand based supermarket chain.]

Q: Is the team otherwise the same?

A: There have been changes. [my note: I presume this is because it’s now Indevin that owns the Gisborne winery, dubbed “Lindauer’s spiritual home”] For Lion, wine is relatively new so it’s taken some time to see things out and get the wine side going. This also extends to how the wine is made – however, depending on the components and what is meant to be achieved. The response has been positive so far and so it’s looking good.

Q: In Finland only your Brut Cuvée is currently available, but can we expect to see your other sparklings in the future as well?

A: I hope so! For example, the Rosé is interesting in that the base is basically the same as in Brut Cuvée but it also contains just a few percent of red base wine which makes all the difference. It’s quite amazing what you can do with very small adjustments to the final wine.

Q: I guess blending is always critical in the production of traditional method sparkling wine and so it must be a huge task for you as well.

A: Yes, we try to maintain consistency as much as we can and it is really satisfying and rewarding when you see the end product.

Q: For me, the price-quality ratio of the Brut Cuvée is quite amazing even after having gone up to around 12 euros lately in Finland. In that price range it is certainly by far the most champagne-like sparkling wine available in our beloved retail monopoly. What is your secret?

A: My secret? (laughing) Well, I suppose the number of different components for the base wine maintains the consistency and the style we are looking for. For example, I may have a range of base wines from 2009 to 2011 providing different characteristics to the blend, the 2009 providing slightly aged aromas and 2011 the fruity stuff. Also, we know what we are going to get from the vineyards: a long growing season with some really good flavours coming through – citrus and slightly green aromas in the Chardonnay and a lovely strawberry character in the Pinot. While the ripeness is good the grapes are not too ripe and we are retaining a really nice level of acidity, which is important in the production of sparkling wine – we don’t need much external addition, it’s all very natural.

Q: Although you have a range of ten labels, let’s now concentrate on the Brut Cuvée for a while (since it’s the only one available in Finland). It’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, right?

A: Yes – slightly more Chardonnay than Pinot Noir: around 52-48.

Q: And the time on the lees in the bottle – one year, two years…?

A: It’s been around the three-year mark but it’s starting to drop slightly now. The wine you are seeing now is likely to be in the two-year region and it makes all the difference. A longer period on the yeast lees gives you a more toasty character, but then you don’t get that much of the fruit. You need to have a balance.

Q: I think that is really what strikes you the most when you smell and taste the wine for the first time as it is really toasty and you can easily feel the time on the lees – not something you usually get at that price point. Bottle age is always one of the arguments behind higher prices in traditional method sparkling wines, but you somehow manage to do it in the 10-12 euro price range.

A: Yes, people often ask me how we do it (laughing)!

Q: With your huge volumes in New Zealand, one could probably say Lindauer is almost a national monument.

A: Yes (laughing). In Christmas time surveys, Lindauer is in the top 5 of what people are popping in their trolley.

Q: I did some research and it seems that Lindauer’s marketing has traditionally been directed mainly towards women.

A: Yes, that’s right – and research shows that women tend to go more for sparkling wine. But we are doing other things too. For example, we’ve created a 4-pack of small 200ml mini-bottles for people who say they cannot finish their bottle in one go. Also, bubbles are often seen as a celebration wine and not so much as an everyday drinking wine and so we are trying to move away from the celebration image and encourage people to enjoy a glass of Lindauer when they go out with friends – or, to have one at home.

Q: What is your personal favourite of the Lindauer range?

A: Blanc de Blancs, which is 100% Chardonnay. It has lovely brioche and yeast autolysis notes to go with the citrus and it is nice and delicate.

Q: Still regarding the Brut Cuvée, what would you recommend in terms of storage – does it have the required ingredients to remain in good condition for 2-3 years in the bottle?

A: Absolutely, if it is stored right and the cork is ok. It will develop a more yeasty character. We release the bottle six weeks after bottling but ideally it should be kept for a few months before being opened.

Q: Do you have a lot of control over the viticultural decisions of your contracted vineyards?

A: Yes. After the Christmas, I’ll be spending a reasonable amount of time around the vineyards in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay [on the North Island] making sure things are going the way we want.

Q: How many countries are you importing to these days?

A: I guess it’s around 15. Australia, UK and the US are our main export markets, although Scandinavia is growing too. In the UK we have lost some market share [my note: maybe because of the recent rise of English fizz?] but are working to reverse that.

Q: Would it be easy to increase your volumes to cover new markets?

A: We have about 5 million litres of unbottled wine sitting here and it’s quite a good resource of wine going back to 2005, so I’m able to pull different components to the wines and blends and in that sense I’m also able to react to different markets and trends. But we also need to estimate what will happen a few years down the track to get in the right volume of grapes in each vintage.

Q: What does the future look like for New Zealand sparkling wine in general and what are you doing in terms of product development?

A: It’s looking really good, I think. There are a number of sparkling wines in NZ that are of really, really good quality. At Lindauer, we want to retain the #1 position. There are carbonated, more fruit-driven products that are also slightly sweeter and appeal to younger people that are not looking so much for “serious” wines. We are doing quite a bit of development in this area. In this year, we released what we call the Lindauer Summer Blush and in each vintage going forward, we will – depending on what the vintage is doing – take some grapes and do something with them in the lower end of the market. The Summer Blush is doing really well [my note: yes – it’s now summer over there!]: it’s fruit-driven, has a lot of strawberry character and is appealing to the market really well at the moment. We are also looking at slightly lower-alcohol wines – around 8% – although sparkling wine is not high-alcohol anyway since you are picking the grapes at lower Brix.

Q: Do you have any other new cuvées under development?

A: There is an eight-year-old wine that will be vintaged and also we have a number of other vintages waiting. It’s small volume stuff and the wine is amazing so I’m hoping everything goes well and we can release the wine to the market as planned.

Q: Thank you for your time, Jane. When will we see you in Finland?

A: Soon I hope (laughing), I’d love to go!


Santa Rita tasting
Tommi | 26.11.2013

Some very experimental barrel samples, a selection of non-released vintages and a few interesting higher-end Chilean and Argentinian reds were included in the exclusive tasting offered to Voihan vinetto on Monday evening in Espoo with Felipe Ramirez, Santa Rita’s head winemaker, and Carolina Browne, the group’s sales coordinator for Europe. The tasting was kindly facilitated by importer Amka Finland.

Carolina and Felipe: all smiles even after presenting to grumpy Finnish faces

Which ones of the new projects shall materialise into commercially viable products in the long term will naturally remain to be seen, but the tasting made it quite obvious that the wine group with interests in Chile and Argentina is certainly moving places and is not short of innovation. While a few of the experimental samples were some distance off my preference zone, a couple of them showed great promise.

Monday, Monday…

In the first group of less uninspiring wines belonged e.g. a 2013 Riesling from Argentina in which, despite its high citrus-inspired acidity, I struggled to find any of the typical Riesling notes to which lovers of this divine grape variety around the world are so accustomed to.

Another disappointment from a personal perspective was the 5-barrel batch of Pinot Noir from Leyda Valley in Chile, which – despite being early-picked – exhibited such a concentrated and inky-purple style that on the nose the noble variety was practically undetectable. While on the palate the fruit was very focused and there was abundant acidity and tannins to back it up, one really needs to ask what the point of this wine is in the greater scheme of things.

Similarly, the new “icon wine” Bouganville Petite Sirah 2010, with its hypothetical retail price of around 50 euros (in the Finnish monopoly system) strikes me as a marketer’s nightmare. While the style is rather more elegant than e.g. in California, it’s really too soft and mellow to justify the price tag. It’s certainly a nice reminder of Petite Sirah’s potential – but an icon wine?

The second, more exciting group of samples included several small, unreleased 5-barrel artisanal batches of new projects. Among them was a promising, partly barrel-fermented and aged Sauvignon Blanc from Leyda Valley pressed partly with whole bunches. While the partial oak ageing and batonnage on the lees provided the wine with some complexity and depth, I think the concept should be pushed much further as the high-quality Chilean fruit and its natural acidity can easily take on more influence from the oak and the lees.

Another exciting wine was the Doña Paula Los Indios Parcel 2010, from a series of terroir-driven Malbecs from the Tupungato Valley in Argentina. With eucalyptus/menthol, violet, dark cocoa, figs, blackberry and some earthy notes this wine is destined for greatness and at least 10 more years of increasing complexity.

Finally, two more rewarding samples of the 5-barrel experiments convinced me of Santa Rita’s ability to develop new, high-quality Chilean wines. The early-picked 2013 Carmenère from Apalta will remain in barrel for a few more months still, but already now it was showing focused and refined fruit combined with delicious minerality. And such tannins for a Carmenère!

However, my single favourite wine for the evening was a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo, which just blew the roof off with its concentrated blackcurrant fruit and promising notes of pepper, coffee and chocolate. While there was no greenness at all, there was also no hint of any jamminess in this nicely balanced wine that should develop extremely well in bottle.

All in all a very educating experience that strengthened my respect for the efforts of Chilean and Argentinian wine producers in expanding the horizon of their respective wines while searching long-term success and appreciation.


André Ostertag in da house
Tommi | 19.11.2013

Finnish wine and spirits importer Vindirekt kindly offered a group of young (or at least young-minded) food and wine professionals a nice Friday treat by serving us two interesting gentlemen: Alsace’s biodynamic revolutionary and pioneer André Ostertag of Domaine Ostertag, and Matthieu Perrin of the famous Perrin family – best known for Château de Beaucastel, one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s most prized jewels.

Starting today with André and hopefully following later this week with Matthieu, I’ll briefly and bluntly state my feelings about the wines offered to us during the 4-hour Friday vinobath. So brace yourselves, here we go (in order of appearance).

Calm before the storm

The first two wines came from Montsecano – a tiny 7 ha estate set up about 10 years ago by André and his three Chilean friends. Pictures of the main site’s dramatic and steep hillside location in Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley set up the mood for two examples from the estate. Situated only 10 kilometres from the ocean and at 300-500 metres of altitude, the sites are prone to morning fog. André condensed the overriding philosophy of the estate quite eloquently: high in spirit, low in technique. Harvest decisions are always based purely on physiological ripeness of the grapes instead of daily measurements of sugar and acidity. The grapes ripen early compared to most sites in the region, which André likes to merit on the biodynamic (main site Montsecano) and organic (smaller site Refugio) viticulture.

Refugio Montsecano Pinot Noir 2011

The smaller, 2 ha site. Medium deep ruby. Violet, red cherry, soft darkness. Vibrant fruit with good acidity, fine medium strength tannins. Felt like zero oak, which was confirmed by André – instead 12 to 18 months in egg-shaped concrete vats. To drink young.

Montsecano Pinot Noir 2011

Medium deep, slightly purplish ruby. Quite significantly more spicy than the Refugio and also has more personality. A peculiarly salty mouthfeel, demonstrating André’s view of how terroir should be reflected in the glass. Should possess good ageing ability.

And now… The Alsace Crew

After the warm-up it was time for the main course – a selection of eleven Domaine Ostertag whites of Alsace, including a couple of mature examples of the wines’ long-term potential. (Disclaimer: I absolutely love Alsatian white wines in their dry/off-dry, pure, acidic guise.)

According to André, the estate’s grounds hide 15 different types of soil. Only natural yeasts are used alongside bentonite (for fining) and some sulphur as the only additives. And what comes to batonnage… well, Andre does not like it anymore. ”If you need to do it, you have made a mistake somewhere.” And the same goes for green harvest – so there you have it.

Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner 2012

According to André 2012 is overall a very good vintage, and it seems his old Sylvaner vines (up to 75 years old) have done a sterling job at producing a decent example of this quite rarely-seen varietal wine. Rather light yellow in appearance, the surprisingly aromatic nose reveals nice citrus and floral notes. Somewhat fat on the palate but with nice fruitiness. Still, fat is fat and for me it rarely works in young bottlings without some overriding aromatic compensation e.g. by a rough herbal edge.

Pinot Blanc Barriques 2011

One of the intricacies of Alsatian appellation rules, this one is actually only 50 percent Pinot Blanc and 50 Auxerrois. Auxerrois is very low in acidity but strong in fruit, so in an academic sense it can complement Pinot Blanc’s often austere acidity quite well. Lightish but vibrant yellow. Both the nose and palate exhibit rich and ripe, but still sufficiently subdued, tropical fruit covered by a thin layer of oak- and malo-inspired creaminess. Interesting, but for me more of a one night stand than a long-term romance.

Riesling Vignoble d’E 2011

The Riesling notes on the nose are not too apparent but still immediately mouthwatering. However, while it seemed many others particularly enjoyed this one, a hint of peculiar gummybear sweets in the aromatics blew it for me. The best part of the wine is clearly its unique mouthfeel, with pronounced acidity and identifiable tannic structure! The fruit is ripe but not overly so.

Riesling Fronholz 2011

Fronholz is a particularly sunny and windy hill of quartz and white sand, situated (by Alsatian standards) quite far away from the Vosges mountain range. With its salty backend, this minerality-driven wine is also rich in fruit and has significantly more weight and alcohol than the Vignoble d’E. Both the fruit and acidic structure can easily take on another 15 years of bottle age. Quite impressive but way, way too young to be enjoyed today.

The Man himself: André Ostertag

Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg 2011

This Grand Cru site is typified by the red sandstone and volcanic elements of the soil. Three different labels can be seen in the bottles of this vintage (nine were actually produced but was deemed too much)! Despite the malo this off-dry is quite austere in the entry, but provides good intensity and length towards the back end. Delicious, but still a baby. Probably quite versatile as a food wine: fish, seafood, white meat, cheese.

Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg 1982

As a dedicated lover boy of mature Rieslings, this one managed to raise my heartbeat before even sniffing at the glass. As an interesting side story, ’82 was André’s first Muenchberg and was bottled in the then-required 70cl bottles (75cl only from ‘83 onwards). While the appellation rules were quite different from today (i.e. way too loose in the form of high crops and low concentration), also picking was done earlier than now, resulting in greener notes, more acidity and less outright fruit in the finished wine. As a result André considers the ’82 to be “not the best vintage”. However, the earthy/stony/flinty nose got me going immediately and while this absolutely bone dry wine has hardly any primary fruit left, it is still amazingly and vibrantly acidic and fresh, making it feel on the palate like a young wine in the first half of its first decade. Talk about deception! André’s food pick: parmigiano cheese. Even with its shortcomings, for me this was the wine of the evening and the one I will reminisce with warmth for years to come.

A360P Pinot Gris Grand Cru Muenchberg 2011

Friday’s final expression of the Muenchberg site. One of the wines that earned André his non-conformist reputation, it was originally rejected at the local AOC panel tastings (last occurrence in 2000) as atypical of the region, meaning the wine had to be labeled differently to keep it outside the official appellation rules – hence the A360P name, referring to the cadastral name of the Pinot Gris plot. After gaining international reputation the wine was finally “accepted” so the official Grand Cru labeling can now be used. Fermented and aged in barrel (including new, preferably local Vosges oak) – something André feels is important to balance the character of the variety as it is picked early to ensure complete dryness in the finished wine instead of the more typical off-dry style. Somewhat deeper in colour compared to the Rieslings. Amazing structure! Oily tropical fruit is supported by sharp acidity and some tannins from the oak ageing. Very, very powerful.

Pinot Gris Zellberg 2010

Moving on to another site. Again, barrel fermented and aged, including new oak. Despite of what was said above, this one seems off-dry on the palate – I wonder whether it is actual residual sugar or whether it could be due to the rich fruit and oak? In any case I preferred the Muenchberg cousin to this one.

Pinot Gris Zellberg 1996

The 17-year-old big brother of the previous wine. 1996 was the coolest vintage in 20 years, with very little rain. If there ever was a dictionary definition for a truffle nose in wine, this has to be it! While it is apparently typical of a mature cool vintage Pinot Gris, the pungent truffle covers everything else that the wine might have to offer. Too much is too much and so I can’t see much other point in this one except to try it with a rich truffle risotto and see what happens.

Gewurztraminer Vignoble d’E 2009

With potential alcohol of 14-15 percent and the variety’s inherently low acid levels, Ostertag always balances its GWT’s with some residual sugar (here, 35 g/l). This weighty, ripe and super spicy Gewurz was slightly too concentrated for my taste.

Gewurztraminer Fronholz Vendanges Tardives 2010

Moving into the sweet territory with the last, late harvest wine’s 100 g/l residual sugar. Dried fruit and light botrytis have taken over the typical Gewurz aromas on the nose. The palate is sweet but extremely fresh and finishes long and pleasantly (and surprisingly) off-dry. Indeed very nice and has easily another 10 years ahead of it.


And that’s it, not quite so brief after all. None of these wines is available in Alko but at least some of them can be found in a reasonable selection of Finnish restaurants. In any case it was not a bad way to kick off Friday evening, so many thanks to Vindirekt.

ps. I just noticed that my dear and astronomically more famous colleague Arto Koskelo has written a piece on the same tasting so it should be interesting to compare our notes – as long as everyone understands that in case the notes differ, Arto is always the one that got it wrong…


Interview with Chris Blandy, part 2
Tommi | 8.6.2013

In the first part of the interview, we interviewed Chris about his background and current job as CEO of Blandy’s. In this second part we focus more on the wines themselves (FINALLY!) as well as discuss the future direction of Madeira. Finally, my brief notes on a small selection of Blandy’s range of wines are included in the end.

Before we let Chris loose, it’s probably worth summarising what Madeira wine is and how it is made. I won’t go into a lot of detail here as a myriad of useful information by people far more qualified than myself can be easily found all over the web (e.g. see here or here).

Not your average vineyard location

Grape varieties

While by law a plethora of grape varieties are allowed for the production of Madeira wine, only a handful are used in meaningful quantities. The following six varieties form the basis of more or less all commercially sold Madeira wine.

Tinta Negra Mole: A high-yielding red variety used for all levels of sweetness and accounting for 80-90 per cent of all production. Originally a crossing of Pinot Noir and Grenache.
Sercial: A highly acidic white variety producing the driest styles among the four ‘noble varieties’.
Verdelho: The second ‘noble white’ producing off-dry and slightly more full-bodied and less acidic wines than Sercial.
Bual/Boal: Another noble white variety, producing interesting semi-sweet and medium-bodied wines.
Malvasia/Malmsey: The fourth noble white, producing the sweetest, smoothest and most full-bodied wines.
Terrantez: A rare but highly appreciated white variety, producing some of the best and most age-worthy Madeiras in both sweet and dry styles.

A traditional (and hot) warehouse for ageing vintage Madeira

Winemaking and ageing

What happens during winemaking and the subsequent ageing process is really what gives Madeira its completely unique aroma profile. As with all fortified wines, the fermentation process is stopped with the addition of neutral grape spirit at the desired level of sweetness (dry, medium dry, medium sweet or sweet). Following the fortification, the historical effect of the wines’ exposure to tropical heat during long sea voyages is duplicated through the estufagem ageing process whereby the deliberate heating and oxidation of the wines gives them their unique aroma and flavour profile. The heat can be applied either artificially (e.g. hot water circulating around stainless steel containers) or totally naturally (barrel-ageing in specially designed rooms exposed to direct sunlight), depending on the targeted level of quality and price.

The estufagem process can last from 90 days for the cheapest wines to up to 100 years for the most expensive and high-quality vintage Madeiras. The practice is also responsible for Madeira’s famous chemical stability: by the bottling date the wine will already be so fully oxidised and mature that leaving a bottle open will not do it much harm. On the same note, unopened bottles of Madeira are some of the longest-lasting wines in the world – as an example, vintage 1785 is one of the most expensive wines in the world and highly sought-after among the wealthiest wine collectors. Crazy stuff!

Oldies goldies… But who are the lucky ones that get to taste them???

And now, ladies and gentlemen – Chris Blandy, part two:


What makes Madeira unique among the many wine styles out there?

Being a fortified wine and almost completely unique in the fact that we promote the heating of the wine, whilst being made on a small volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, sets us apart in many aspects! Perhaps the most important aspect is that our wines are completely stabilised, due to the ageing process. This means that once a bottle is opened, the consumer can enjoy the wine over a long period. For example, I opened a bottle of vintage Terrantez 1976 at Christmas 2011, enjoyed half the bottle with my wife, replaced the cork, kept it standing upright in my cellar and a year later, at Christmas 2012, enjoyed the other half. The wine hadn’t changed in the slightest.

Many people probably consider Madeira solely a dessert wine. But this is far from the truth, isn’t it?

Whilst typically rich Madeira is drunk with dessert, we have been working hard with sommeliers and Michelin star chefs to pair Madeira with a whole range of different dishes. Some of the experiences that have worked well in the past and are seen on various menus around the world include, chilled 5 year old Sercial with toasted almonds, 5 year old Verdelho with tuna sashimi, 10 year old Bual with foie gras or Bresse Blue cheese, vintage Bual with fake shark fin soup, and 10 year old Malmsey with dark chocolate fondant, to name just a few.

What are the latest trends when it comes to Madeira? Do you do a lot of research into new styles or ways to express the island’s terroir – e.g. have you experimented with single vineyard bottlings or some wacky blends?

We produced our wackiest blend in 2002 with the 5 year old Alvada, a wine produced with a 50/50 blend of Bual and Malmsey. We sold it in a sleek 50 cl bottle with a shocking pink label – very anti Madeira at the time! The reaction has been very positive and the consumers thoroughly enjoy this new style of Madeira. In terms of single quinta bottlings, that project is very much underway, but still a few years down the line as we want to leave the wine more years in cask before being launched.

Each and every bottle of vintage Madeira is still labeled by hand

Madeira wine has for some time been more or less out of fashion – especially among younger generations – although among wine enthusiasts practically everyone will love a glass of mature, high-quality Madeira. Why is that and where do you think the future of Madeira lies? How can it be marketed more effectively to the new breed of wine consumers?

The opportunities for Madeira are plenty. The consumers nowadays are much more aware of what is in their glass and what is available out in the market, being it from the large corporate brands, or the small hand-produced products. We are very much focusing on consumer wine fairs and getting the wine in front of the consumers and taking them through the 4 main styles so that they get a clear idea of what Madeira is basically all about. We are fortunate in that more often than not, the majority of those who try our wines for the first time get immediately hooked on the product!

What is your single favourite Madeira you’ve ever tasted?

A difficult one as I’ve been fortunate enough to try many old great wines, some dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. One wine however that has constantly made me smile is our 1920 Bual. A wine that we were fortunate enough to have a large stock of and that we still have over 1,000 litres in oak continuing to age. This wine should be perfect for a 2020 bottling – 100 years in cask!

If our readers would like to learn more about Madeira and Blandy’s, what should they do – except of course drink a lot of the stuff? Are visits possible?

The island itself is a perfect destination for tourism. It has spectacular sea and mountain, constant warm weather throughout the year, a wide range of hotels and small country house properties and of course a varied and diverse food and wine scene. Visits to the vineyards and of course our 200 year old wine lodge in the centre of Funchal is a must. We can almost guarantee that however you visit the island, you’ll go away with a strong need to return.


Well, then. After Chris’s interesting thoughts it’s about time to review some wines! A selection of six wines was on display together with delicious Finnish dishes at the excellent Helsinki-based Restaurant Nokka.

An intriguing menu by Restaurant Nokka (Photo: Voihan vinetto!)

5 Year Old Alvada

Served with goose liver pumped up with some salty nuts and black pudding, this interesting 50-50 mix of Bual and Malmsey has as much as 120 grams per litre of residual sugar. On the nose one gets a delicious mixture of coffee, raisins, lime and nuts as well as a whiff of oak (exceptionally to Madeiras, this one has spent some time in oak for the purpose of extracting some of those oaky aromas). On the palate it’s very sweet indeed but the high acidity gives it a nice, balanced feel. The food-wine combination was among the best of the day. A welcome alternative, then, to all those Botrytis affected sweet whites usually recommended with fois gras.

Santa Lucia

The Santa Lucia is based on the widely planted (and less valued) Tinta Negra Mole grape and with RS of 130 g/l it is even sweeter than the Alvada. However, being less acidic and with a more straightforward aroma profile the Santa Lucia is less pronounced and also far less interesting. While the acidity was just sufficient to make the wine work with the consommé and nuts on offer, I felt the combination was too much dominated by the sweetness of the wine. (available in Alko)

10 Year Old Sercial

This dry Sercial made a nice effort together with the delicious duck and cep mushroom dish. You’d never guess the sugar content as even with 50 g/l of residual sugar, the intensive acidity makes the wine feel fresh and dry on the palate. Aromas of dried fruit, nuts and almonds linger long in the mouth.

5 Year Old Bual

On the nose this basic Bual provides a nice, oxidised cloud of nuts, dried plum, other dried fruit, and burned sugar. With residual sugar of 95 g/l the taste is quite sweet and the aroma profile is complemented with coffee and spice. The wine’s marriage with the chocolate and nougat based dessert was perfect. (available in Alko)

Terrantez 1976

For me, the Terrantez was the undisputed star of the day. Bottled in 1997, the 21 years spent in cask have really intensified the aromas and the result resembles a condensed Bual, with the trademark aromas of dried fruits, spices, burned sugar and a certain degree of woodiness. Intense and unforgettable! I have no doubt about the potential of this wonderful but almost extinct and extremely low-yielding variety, so let’s hope Madeira’s producers will raise their efforts towards rehabilitating it. There was only one downside: buying a bottle will set you back almost 200 euros. (90 g/l of sugar)

Sercial 1940

After maturing a staggering 46 years in cask, this bottling spent a further 26 years in bottle before making it to our table. Still completely fresh with an astounding level of acidity and an intensively oxidized, salty, and pistachio-like feel. An epitome of luxurious dry Madeira, available at around 250 euros per bottle.

Liquid heaven (Photo: Voihan vinetto!)

All in all, a solid display from Blandy’s and an eye-opening demonstration of the gastronomic possibilities of Madeira wine in general. After the experience, I have already added more Madeira to my cellar and look forward to enjoying them alongside a nice dinner.

Encore: Official fan photo of Chris – again


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(All photos: Blandy’s except where explicitely mentioned otherwise)


Interview with Chris Blandy, part 1
Tommi | 1.6.2013

Madeira is a beautiful island situated in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 kilometres north of the Canary Islands, and this autonomous region of Portugal is home to the similarly beautiful, unique and historically important Madeira wine. Used once to toast the declaration of indepence of the USA, the last century witnessed a slow but steady decline in the popularity of this unique fortified wine style. Falling out of favour of the global wine market was driven by several developments, including (but not limited to) the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800′s, the subsequent and unfortunate replanting with lower quality vine species, and the temporary closing off of Madeira’s then biggest export markets (Russia, USA) in the first half of the 20th century.

Breathtaking scenery at the 2ha Quinta do Furão, one of the three vineyards recently acquired by Blandy’s in a push to secure availability of top quality grapes for the long run. And there’s a hotel on the site, too!

Chris Blandy, the new generation CEO of the major Madeira house Blandy’s, visited Finland earlier this year and together with their importer Winestate offered a chance to try an interesting selection of Blandy’s wines in Helsinki. The bottlings were tasted alongside Finnish delicacies specially prepared to match the wines by Restaurant Nokka’s skilled chef Ari Ruoho.

Chris is a dedicated ambassador of Madeira wine and a firm believer in the potential of the island as a producer of high-quality wine – and, judging by the overall level of the tasting, he seems to know what he’s talking about. The challenge, however, remains as many consumers still associate the Madeira name with the low-quality ‘cooking wine’ once so common in American and British kitchens. While the best examples (and especially those exquisite mature bottlings) of the island’s possibilities fetch considerable enthusiasm from wine connoisseurs around the world, re-penetrating the minds of the general public with high-quality products and a good value proposition is not a walk in the park. During the past couple of decades the first steps towards achieving this goal have already been taken and with the success enjoyed by Blandy’s in 2012, Chris is determined to see the process through. However, for Madeira to stand a chance for a true bounce back it seems clear that his enthusiasm really needs to be supported by a consistent marketing push from all the major Madeira houses. The quality of the wines is not an issue anymore – it’s now all about sales, marketing and a lot of legwork.

Chris Blandy took over as CEO of Blandy’s wine business in 2011 and is determined to lift Madeira back to its former glory

In this first part of the interview (conducted in May 2013) Chris talks about his background, education, business training and current duties at the helm of the 200-year-old family group of companies. The second part focuses on the wines and also includes my short notes of the ones tried and tested at the tasting in Helsinki.


Hi Chris! Great to talk to you again. How’s life?

Life is good! Just back from a 10-day holiday to Rome (without kids) and Porto Santo (with kids), so feeling fresh and energised!

You visited Finland earlier this year, among the rest of the Nordic region. How was the experience and what did you take home from the visit?

Visiting Madeira markets for the first time is always an interesting experience and more often than not, a positive one. Finland was no different and what I found was a very passionate, albeit small, group of Madeira lovers. This is always very promising in our category as it is these ambassadors who can help spread the word on the Madeira wines.

How was the ferry to Stockholm? You may have been saved by the fact it was a Tuesday…

After all the hype, much quieter than I had expected! Quite relieved though as I had a master class with 25 of the staff at 23:30 at night onboard. It was a great experience to wake up the next day and be invited up to the bridge to view the navigation through the archipelago.

We’re about the same age and it’s amazing to think you’ve now been running such a big and traditional company as Blandy’s as CEO for two years already. What’s your biggest achievement to date and what are your main goals for the next five years?

Yes, I took over as CEO of the Madeira Wine Company in September 2011, our bicentennial year, though I am also CEO of 2 other of our businesses since 2010 (Travel and Shipping Agencies).

Taking control of a 200-year-old organisation in the middle of a global crisis is always going to be a serious challenge. Not only do you have to deal with the weight of expectation from other family members and colleagues, but you also have to find the right path to be able guide to business through to calmer times. Fortunately with the help of my cousin Michael, President of the family and a very good operating team, I get a lot of support.

2012 was a landmark year for us in that we managed to achieve a large amount of awards at the various global competitions, we produced some fantastic new wines and we managed to turnover more sales than in recent history.

My objective for the near future is to fully implement our vineyard project. Historically we have never owned our own vineyards, but due to increasing pressure on securing production, and our commitment to the future of the historical white varietals, we have embarked on various projects and we’re currently working on 3 separate Quintas around the island, with an objective to increase this in the short term.

And finally, my main goal is to increase the quantity of Madeira wine drinkers around the world!

Tell us a little bit about your background, education and early career. You told me earlier that you’re half Swedish but I’m sure our readers will forgive you for that…

That’s true I’m afraid. My mother is Swedish and I am very proud of my Nordic heritage, even though we didn’t get many chances to visit our relations there.

I was born in Madeira on 23 March 1979 and as many English children abroad, went to boarding school in the south of England. After school, I lived in New Zealand, working as a sports teacher for a year before heading back to England to study languages and history at Newcastle University. After Newcastle, I applied for a job with our Madeira wine partners at the time, the Symington Family of Oporto, where I worked with them for 3 years. I then decided to switch careers and got a job working at a well known hotel property in Washington DC, in the USA. Late 2006, my cousin gave me a call advising me that there was a job opening at the shipping agency, which I joined in 2007.

I know many traditional family companies in Finland like it if their younger generation works outside the family before really joining the company for the long haul – but in your case it was a strict requirement, wasn’t it? How important was that experience to you and what did you take away from it?

We have a written rule which states that family members are encouraged to join the Group provided there is an opening, they are suitably qualified and have had a minimum of 4 years work experience elsewhere. This allows us to ensure that we get family members who can bring in their own ideas and experiences to the table, rather than learner from scratch within the group.

It worked very well for me and the most important message that I’ve learned (and still learning!) is to always listen to the team around you, from the lowest paid to the highest paid individual.

As you mentioned, besides Madeira production the group also runs a big hotel business and a shipping agency. How do you divide your time between the different lines of business and how involved do you get with each of them?

I’m currently focusing the majority of my time on the wine company, as we feel that this needs the most attention. For the Travel and Shipping business, as well as my involvement in the hotels and general group matters, I manage to dedicate about 1 day per month for each area.

Quinta de Santa Luzia, another of Blandy’s recently acquired vineyards, is a promising site for the previously largely out-of-favour Terrantez grape


Please share your experiences of the island and its wines on our Facebook page as well as Twitter.

The second part of the interview can be found here.

(All photos: Blandy’s)