A View From Across The Pond: Fred Lockwood
Recently, Tod Stewart had the opportunity to chat with Fred Lockwood, the Ontario ex-pat who now lives in Britain and operates the Maison de Bulliats winery in France’s Beaujolais region (see Tidings, April 2011). When asked about the state of the wine industry in Britain today, Lockwood offered these thoughts.
Bordeaux wine is still frequently referred to as “claret” in Britain, a usage dating back to the mid-1100s when Bordeaux fell under British rule. I understand that the origins of this name date from that period because the wine was not red, but more yellow in colour. I also suspect that the unit of weight, “tonne”, also dates from that period as a measure of what a ship could carry in terms of barrels or “tonneaux”. I’ll suggest that French was favoured by the clergy after the Norman invasion, but no doubt Latin was equally, or more, prominent.
When I came to the UK there was really only French wine available. Now, the average Brit is pretty anti-French in the wake of a long history of rivalry and wars. It seems to me to be deeply rooted in the culture. So when the Californians started commercializing wine, and then the Australians, the average wine consumer was delighted. There were articles that the Americans with their technology could replicate the finest French wines produced by the technically inferior French. As an engineering scientist I knew that replication was just not possible, the chemistry of wine is enormously complicated, but the British public lapped up all this stuff. The American wines did not really catch on, (lingering resentment originating from the war of independence, I guess) but the Australian ones certainly did. Then those of the former New Zealand and South African colonies followed suit.
All of this activity in wine-making was compounded by rapidly increasing wine consumption in the UK, as in Canada and the USA. In fact, the international wine market was expanding very rapidly. There was money to be made; so world production increased dramatically. Inevitably the market saturated, prices fell and people here in Beaujolais are now ripening up vines, a classic economic cycle. Are Brits still buying Australian wine. Well yes, but less so because now they are experimenting with wines from everywhere. If a Brit buys a case, he will most often ask for a mixture. And there is a trend toward lighter wines, which is helping us a bit. Global warming is a reality; ask any grower in this region. Australia is sunny, and alcohol levels have responded. It is difficult to reduce them. 2009 was exceptionally hot here in Beaujolais. Our wines in that year have 13% alcohol without chaptalisation, when we would prefer no more than 12.5.
In the UK there are a lot of high-end independent wine shops servicing an up-market clientèle who is wanting to explore the world of wine. After the Norman invasion in the middle ages, French was the language of the court, church and ruling classes. The aristocracy and upper middle classes on the whole remain positive about France to this day in a contrast to Mr. Average. These shops are therefore good for our business.
All this is just my potted and layman’s view of things!