The UK's No.1 Australian Wine Specialist
Written by Stuart McCloskey
Certainly, in our case, August is a notoriously quiet month, but it does allow time for commercial reflection, time spent preparing for the run up to Christmas, a major warehouse overhaul and for me, the first two-week holiday I have booked in a decade. Do not feel sorry for me as it’s entirely my own choice. In fact, I have repeatedly returned to the office mid-way through my holiday simply as I love my work. This time, I am determined to keep away as the team are perfectly able to run The Vinorium without me – I am sure they will enjoy the peacefulness too. Note to oneself – leave a dozen bottles for the team to open in one’s absence (they do enjoy a glass of wine each day!)
Cramming three weeks work into one is challenging, but my team are an immense support and certainly help to lessen the load. We have far too many samples to get through – it’s 10:38 on Tuesday morning and Magda is busy opening the entire collection from Barossa producer, Massena. I awake around 4:45am, rise from my bed by five and I am often on my bike saddle by six – It’s a twenty-five mile cycle into the office and one I thoroughly enjoy. Me versus the clock and my best time – I see little point in cycling unless I am beating my ‘best’ time. Equally, I enjoy the morning freshness and beautiful floral aromas as I pass through the nature reserve before tackling the city of Canterbury and umpteen pillocks who believe that it’s okay to ‘almost’ kill a cyclist on my regular commute. Last week, I was hammering down one of the hills at 48mph (77kph) for our EU friends) – A fully loaded car transporter thought it acceptable to sit on my backside (no more than 15 feet away from me). Rather silly, but that’s the world we live in, sadly…
My first week off will be a busy one – lots planned for the house and garden followed by a trip (week two) to the west coast of Scotland where I shall find solace in some of the most spectacular mountains before returning to work on Friday 13 for a very important event – look out for my communication on Friday 6 August, as I have an important announcement to make. Until then, I shall remain shtum.
Dan has been busy transforming our new sample room, which could comfortably open as a boutique wine store. It is jampacked with bottles – hundreds, possibly a thousand or more bottles are lined-up and displayed in regimental fashion. If only he showed the same care to the warehouse floors – Shontelle and I prefer a daily sweep rather than Dan’s ‘at the end of the week’ but I will say, he’s a diamond albeit with a few imperfections (sweeping mainly and his choice of music is questionable). Our neighbour, across two car parks, runs a woodwind musical import / export business – his warehouseman has asked for the music to be lowered, which says it all!
I have my own wine room at work which is equally crammed with case after case. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, a little Italian (I am still waiting to have my epiphany about any wine from Italy) and vast quantities of Aussie wines. The recent stock check unearthed the many wines which I purchased, Standish / Utopos / Fire Gully (lots of cases and we have now have 65 bottles back in stock as I cannot consume this quantity), an entire column of JC’s 2020 Freestyler and Eastern Peake’s 2018 Intrinsic Chardonnay. I should hand back a few cases as we are just about to sell-out however, I will not as it’s too darn good…
I have lots of mature Bordeaux including some rare 1945s – sadly no ‘magical’ 1945 Mouton Rothschild as this would make me a very, very happy man (and a rather rich one too at £150,000++ per case – provenance and condition determining the final price). Did I tell you of my trip to Mexico to buy a super-rare collection of 1945 Mouton? It’s a true one…
There are magnificent wines and then there is 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild. For me this is the greatest wine I have and most probably will ever taste.
So, when the call came in to assess, value and potentially purchase an incredibly rare collection of old Moutons containing 1941, 45, 47 and 49 vintages; I packed my bags, booked my flight and headed 11,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico City.
Extreme? Perhaps. Crazy, some may say and if truth were known, I can’t really argue. However, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I could not decline. Also, we did have an office in the city (closed late 2014) therefore, making the expenditure a little easier to justify to my accountant. I conducted the necessary due diligence regarding the wine’s provenance and condition prior to my departure and discovered that many bottles remained in the same family for half a century or more. In fact, it is a fascinating story as to how these great Bordeaux arrived in Mexico, to keep it brief, the then President of Mexico gifted these wonderful wines to the current owner’s grandfather.
I vividly recall the long flight to Mexico City; my excitement was palpable as I sat there thinking about the events happening when these bottles came to fruition. In 1941, World War 2 was at its peak, the Enigma code was broken, and the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbour, thus drawing the US into World War 2. Consequently, the US, UK and China officially declared war on the Empire of Japan. 1945 saw Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, executed, the Soviet Union announced the fall of Berlin, V-E Day as Nazi Germany surrendered, the horrific Atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister and September saw World War 2 come to an end.
On arriving at the office where the wine would be assessed I was, to my horror, led to a small cupboard where all the bottles lay; this was nothing more than a broom cupboard, no bigger than a large wine rack.
There were obvious signs of seepage too – a brown stickiness oozed through some of the wine capsules and the vast majority of labels were neatly stored in a shoebox which posed a further problem regarding identifying the various vintages. Nonetheless, I carefully removed each and every bottle and placed them upright in the air-conditioned office. It was such a shame these historical bottles did not receive the same cooling atmosphere as it was clearly evident that each and every bottle was subjected to hot, dry conditions which had slowly destroyed them over many decades.
Prior to my departure I had requested photographs of the bottles – some were sent, and these bottles showed fully intact labels with varying degrees of ullage (referring to the space of air between the wine and bottom of the cork), the vast majority that stood in front of me were not of the same quality. I was asked to open a bottle of the ’41 Mouton, which was a surgical task as the cork was extremely fragile. The nose was attractive and sweet at first but faded quickly once in contact with the atmosphere. I was surprised with the wine’s structure; firm and medium bodied, there was no sign of fruit. Instead, the ’41 was lean, rustic and offered little, if any enjoyment. Years of bad cellaring had taken the wine’s life away and left behind only a shadow of its former self.
Naturally, the owner was keen for my approval and valuation for his prized collection. Simply put, a collection of this historical rarity and size would easily command over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. However, in this condition, I would not part with five hundred pounds. I left empty handed, a little numb, but I found solace in a few good bottles of wine at one of Mexico’s top restaurants, Biko (their equivalent to El Bulli – very good by the way) and all shared with a dear and close friend, Beatrice who I miss…
Old Favourites back in stock (available by the bottle)
Kaesler Alte Reben Shiraz 2015
96 Points - James Halliday "Fruit off the estate's Marananga vineyard planted in 1899. The wine is matured in 35% new French oak and aged 16 months. It's full-bodied, bold and rich with densely packed tannins and all manner of dark fruit, spice and gravelly/ironstone notes. Retains purity, even a brightness."
95 Points - Joe Czerwinski (RobertParker.com)"Previously reviewed from barrel in Issue 227, the 2015 Alte Reben Shiraz is now in bottle and looks fantastic. Pencil shavings, raspberries and thyme blossoms all appear on the nose, while the full-bodied palate delivers spicy complexity, ripe, creamy-textured tannins and terrific length. From a vineyard in Marananga planted in 1899, this is intense, supple and just downright great juice."
95 Points - James Suckling "An old-vine bottling from 1899 plantings. It delivers strong blackberries, mulberries, red plums, spiced earthy notes and crushed flowers. Ethereal. This has a soulful and profound appeal on the palate with a sleeve of dark, spice-dusted blackberry and blood-plum flavors. The power is effortless here. Drink or hold."
24 bottles available
£52.95 per bottle
or £250.95 per case of 6 In Bond
Schubert Estate Goose Yard Block Shiraz 2006
96 Points – Magdalena Sienkiewicz "A super-expressive nose with spiced fruit compote oozing from the glass together with fresh roasted coffee. Very classy and polished. The palate bursts with flavour in a beautiful dance of ripe fruit and Asian spices. Blueberries and raspberries are followed by crushed rocks, earthy spices and bitter chocolate. The wine flows seamlessly. Svelte tannins leading to a long and balanced finish with invigorating acidity making your palate feel refreshed and ready for more..."
96 Points - James Halliday "Deep red, some crimson; medium- to full-bodied, and particularly intense; perfectly ripened fruit gives blackberry and bitter chocolate flavours without a scintilla of overripe/dead fruit characters; great length."
24 bottles available
£31.50 per bottle
or £123.40 per case of 6 In Bond
Wild Duck Creek Springflat Shiraz
Winemaker Notes - "Springflat Shiraz is our original flagship wine having been made every vintage since 1991. Springflat Shiraz is a blend of 4 distinct estate grown vineyards in the Heathcote region. Parcels of fruit are made separately, utilising a small amount of whole bunches in the ferments for added texture, hand plunged, basket pressed and then matured in French and American oak hogsheads for up to 22 months, 40% of which are new."
History of Eastern Peake’s
The best Aussie Rosé in our opinion…
In 1995 Norman Latta (my Father) first started out to make his own wine from our very own grapes, grown at Eastern Peake. Norman along with Mum, Dianne, had been successfully growing Pinot Noir for Trevor Mast (Mt Langi Ghiran) since 1983. They then made a decision to go out on their own to establish Eastern Peake as an iconic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer in Australia. Trevor suggested that Norm should make a Rosé from the Pinot Noir so he could have two wines to sell whilst the Chardonnay was coming along (planted 1991 and 1993). Legend has it, he gave them a bottle of Domaine Tempier Rosé and said “make something like this.” (This is nothing new now, due to its accessibility, but at the time this was one of those moments where you were going to be well ahead of the curve.. possibly by decades).
The first vintage of Rosé in 1995 was a Saignée method. Whereby a small portion of Pinot Noir juice is racked off one of the red fermenters straight after destemming, fermented in stainless steel and left to rest on lees. This is then bottled in November ready for the festive season. The Pinot Rosé was very well received because it was dry, savoury and refreshing - very unusual for the time as there weren't many out there in this style. (Also worth remembering is that Pinot Noir in the early to mid 90s was like an alternative variety, not many people were growing it, let alone making Rosé from it).
From 1996 onwards it has been directly pressed off from select parcels of fruit in the vineyard, a much better expression of Rosé for us than the Saignée way (which robs the red wine of character), the Rosé has always been fermented in stainless steel, oak is never used to influence the wine. From 2008 onwards, I have been leaving the wine longer on lees to gain more texture and complexity. Some years it remains on its full lees for up to 16 months, elevagé in stainless steel before going to bottle with minimal SO2. We've been running with organic principles now for ten years, stepping it up to move towards a biodynamic practice. The vines are all cane pruned by us, set up on a VSP trellis system with an East West orientation. The vines were dry grown for the past 18 years until recently reinstalling the irrigation system due to the dramatic change in climate. It is just there if there is a need for it, for some security. Straw mulch undervine keeps a lot of moisture in the ground over the summer months.
Eastern Peake Pinot Taché 2019
Owen Latta ”In Australia, I guess you could say there are not many producers who have been making serious Rosé from the same site and from the same singular variety continuously for nearly 25 years... We've seen it all, trends come and go but we have stuck to our guns and always produced something that reflects the place and is complex and refreshing to drink. It seems now that Rosé is finally a staple in the Australian wine landscape.”
96-97 Points – Magdalena Sienkiewicz “A more feminine incarnation this year (100% Pinot Noir) which charms with sophisticated vibrancy. The perfume is filled with sun-blushed berries, orchard fruit, wild flowers and a faint whiff of smoked sea salt. Delicately sweet wild strawberries open the palate which expands to reveal a breadth of effortless, savoury textures. A long finish, retaining that elegant, buoyant touch. As ever, a very elegant rosé from Owen, who carefully tends the maturing vines planted by his parents in the 80s. I adore the label update which plays a nostalgic tribute to Mum and Dad. Sampled using Zalto Universal glassware without decanting. Be careful not to overchill.”
John D “I have been guilty of not taking Rosé seriously associating those wines with sipping wine at hen parties or leisurely holidays in Provence overlooking fields of lavender . ( Shame on me ) This wonderful offering has changed all of that , this is a glorious bottle of bright crunchy fruit with gorgeous aromas that can be drunk with or without food.... and 12.5 ABV.”
Summer 2021 Case - 6 Pack
The perfect case of wine to chill and enjoy on a warm summer day. This mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé epitomises summer drinking with some of our favourite warm weather bottles.
1 x Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2020
1 x Villa Maria Clifford Bay Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2019
1 x Hughes & Hughes Sauvignon Blanc Barrel & Skins 2018
1 x Topper's Mountain Bricolage Blanc 2014
1 x Nocturne Nebbiolo Rosé 2018
1 x Eastern Peake Pinot Taché 2019
RRP £113.10 per case
NOW £105.00 per case
Browse the latest collection
including 5 new introductions
Gemtree Introductory Case - 6 Pack
Mike and Melissa's biodynamic and certified organic wines are powerful, concentrated and beautifully express the true characteristics of each grape variety and region. Team Vinorium have been blown away by the Gemtree range and we are very excited to share them with you all.
This six pack provides the perfect introduction to the Gemtree range with a mix of Shiraz, Marsanne, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and a very special sparkling.
1 x Gemtree Wines Ernest Allan Shiraz 2019
1 x Gemtree Wines Obsidian Shiraz 2019
1 x Gemtree Wines April's Dance Sparkling NV
1 x Gemtree Wines Small Batch Marsanne 2020
1 x Gemtree Wines Small Batch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
1 x Gemtree Wines Small Batch Grenache 2019
RRP £192.25 per case
NOW £185.00 per case
2019 Collection has finally landed
Utopos 2019 Four Bottle Pack
1 x Utopos Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Blend 2019
(Exclusively created for Vinorium customers) - 98/98+ Points
1 x Utopos Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 - 99 Points
1 x Utopos Shiraz 2019 - 98/98+ Points
1 x Utopos Mataro Shiraz Grenache 2019 - 98 Points
£139.80 per case
From the archives:
The professional view from the outside in…
Written by Sorcha Hollaway
Now here’s a quote to stop you in your tracks: “Sadly, our industry does not like the rebels, the misfits and those who see things differently. Nevertheless, offer inspiration, seek your own direction, be honest and true to yourself, fearless and above all, follow your ambition.” Powerful stuff and the kind of words you might expect to hear from a leading politician, musician or actor. But no. This is the business – and life – philosophy of Stuart McCloskey who has what he believes quite a unique approach to running a wine retail business. One that includes paying all his producers up front, months before a bottle of wine is sold through his store and the price he has for his wines is the same for the trade as they are for private customers. A business model that he says is based on being entirely self funded and independent. So how does he do it? Sorcha Holloway, founder of #ukwinehour caught up with him at his store in deepest, darkest Kent.
Stuart McCloskey has also put his faith and future in Australian wines with an award winning range based on securing exclusive distribution deals with emerging and leading producers for The Vinorium, which he describes as “the trade’s best kept secret.” Not any more.
Exceptional customer service, top quality wines and respect for the client are all qualities we would love and admire in any wine merchant. Add to that thriving accounts during a time when many fine wine businesses are struggling and you might think I am dreaming a bit here, but bear with me – such a business does exist.
In March 2017, one of my #ukwinehour friends, James Hubbard, tipped me off about aged Australian wines available at exceptional prices from a wine retailer in Kent. My eyes widened and heart rate quickened, and off I scurried to the internet and placed my first order. So began my personal journey of discovery with The Vinorium, this year the winner of both the International Wine Challenge and Decanter Awards for Australian Specialist Retailer of the Year. The man behind this treasure trove is 46-year-old mountaineer Stuart McCloskey, of which there is little written, whose weekly newsletter is one I actually read, and of whom I wanted to find out more.
I was therefore honoured to be invited to a very special Christmas tasting at The Vinorium HQ last week, and met him in person for the first time. It is not that easy to get to by public transport (I learned the hard way that there are no taxis serving Lenham station!), but it was certainly worth the effort. It was a miserable drizzly evening in deepest darkest Kent, but into a true emporium of vinous delights I was welcomed by Stuart and his right-hand woman, Magdalena, and found a delicious 100% Meunier Champagne pressed in to my hand. The other guests had already assembled – all private clients, invited as a special treat, as a thank you for their loyalty and support.
On first impressions, McCloskey seemed warm and open, with a charming transparency you could maybe associate with “the boy next door.” With an enthusiasm reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, Stuart waves us upstairs where we are seated around a long boardroom table, places set with the finest Zalto crystal and the table dressed with candlelight. He holds court at the top of the table, his passion and love for the wines presented clear in his face and in his words. He tells us the stories of the winemakers behind the wines, clearly admiring and appreciative of the hard work that they do from vineyard to the table. He knows them well: their stories, their spouses, their children, their pets. He brings the sense of place vividly to life as he shares the finest wines from Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
No sign of the boy next door now – here we have the consummate professional, composed, confident, articulate, in control. We hang on his every word. We sip, we savour, we shiver with delight. His watchful brown eyes reflect the flames of the candles as they sweep around the table, noting every reaction, quietly registering what moves us with the skill of the eagles he encounters in the mountains. He misses nothing.
His joy in sharing these fine wines is evident, and this is what motivates him in this business. He happily works 15 hour days because he loves what he does. There is no time for a personal life, no family, no pets. Yet he ensures that his staff do not exceed normal working hours; their welfare is very important to him.
His staff are his family, looking after each other, and tasting wine together daily. They have a room full of samples which they assess as a team, rejecting eight out of every 10. If it is not good quality, they simply will not stock it. He says quite frankly that he “will not give crap to customers.” I wondered if he felt this high-level of personal commitment to the business could be sustainable in the long-term,
but he is quite certain that it is – he finds it “thrilling” and feels privileged to work in something that he loves so much.
The Vinorium was created in 2013 as the retail arm of McCloskey’s main company, Z and B Vintners, which was historically more interested in France, Bordeaux in particular. Having attended every en primeur since 2000, he found himself becoming bored with Bordeaux, the lack of honesty there, and the fact that there was too much of a focus on investment rather than drinking for enjoyment.
The idea was to create a wine company that did not exist. A company that would:
• Remain entirely independent, keeping everything in-house from logistics to web-design, with no outsourcing.
• Be entirely self-funding – no credit terms for buyers or suppliers, everyone paid up front, right from the beginning.
• Producers in Australia, for example, paid in advance before shipping, even though wine will not be available for sale in the UK for another three months
• Orders not paid in advance are simply cancelled.
• Treat the consumer with the same (indeed, more) respect that many businesses reserve for trade (trade prices are exactly the same as those for private clients). Or as McCloskey says: “Great wine should be enjoyed and relished and not stuck on restaurant lists to gather dust.”
• Take a serious look at the New World for very high-quality wines which were not yet readily available here but which offered an alternative (generally more affordable) to the traditional Old World wines.
Since 2016 this focus has largely been on Australia, with 98% of annual sales now attributed to Australian wine. In fact, only this week The Vinorium announced that they have broken through the 100,000 mark for bottles of Australian wine sold this year.
The respect that the company has earned has resulted in exclusive representation of some of Australia’s greatest producers and this is expected to grow significantly in the future. Private clients (>5,000) are clearly impressed with the quality of wine and service that they receive as return business and word of mouth recommendations grow – 60% new online business is achieved every day without any paid advertising of any form.
He has also put in plans to cope with any fallout from Brexit (which he thinks is a disgrace), having covered themselves with both stock and forward currency hedging for the first twelve months. Whether we leave with a deal or not he thinks several major UK suppliers will struggle to survive, but that there will be some fantastic opportunities for those who are willing and able.
I asked if he had any one piece of advice for the wider UK wine industry to which he replied no, he had several. Here they are:
• Specialise! Focus on your specialism, put everything else away, delist countries if necessary.
• Seek advice from your customers – listen to their feedback, to what they want.
• Be honest! Always!
• Stop robbing Peter to pay Paul – it’s not sustainable, especially with Brexit coming up.
• And then a tip from his mountaineering days – stop rushing and look at the bigger picture, the 360˚
• Learn by your mistakes, and don’t make them again!
• “What you do in the beginning is most important, day one, day two – if you go wrong then, you’re never going to reach the summit!”
Despite spending months climbing some of the world’s highest mountains every year when he was younger, McCloskey rarely has time these days to indulge in his love of mountaineering. He has climbed over 7,000 metres in the beautiful mountains nestled in the Karakoram Mountain Range, on the quieter Pakistan side. He prefers less people, and assures me “there is nothing quite like mountainous solitude.” He hopes to take some time off after the Christmas rush to go climbing in Scotland.
It is clear that whatever he does, he gives it his all. I am impressed by his openness, a rare trait these days, and his willingness to share and guide others.
I will leave you with one last quote from Stuart McCloskey: “Sadly, our industry does not like the rebels, the misfits and those who see things differently. Nevertheless, offer inspiration, seek your own direction, be honest and true to yourself, fearless and above all, follow your ambition.”