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General Wine
Reflections on the Art of Wine Copywriting - Part 1
Wednesday, 23rd January, 2013  - David Farmer

The liquor business Farmer Bros opened in June, 1975 in Canberra. The liquor specials were announced in a weekly advertisment in the Canberra Times and this required depicting the products, writing a headline, numerous sub-headings, and was largely price driven. Only small amounts of copy were used as newspaper advertising space is expensive. The layout appearance and the specials are far more important than copy. Brother Richard was very good at this art form. I continued with this type of advertising, on and off till 2012.

Around 1977 we began mailing out a small four page A5 newsletter to wine customers. This allowed the publication of detailed stories and wine notes about the wines for sale, to repeat, a luxury not allowed by the expensive broadsheet advertising. In one form or another I have been involved with writing catalogues and newsletters ever since. Indeed from 1977 I have developed, at times with with others, six distinctive, unique liquor/wine catalogues and if we include Glug, which is only online, it becomes seven.

Over this time it's likely I have written more about wine than even our most prolific wine writer James Halliday and at some point have become a reasonable copywriter. It is from this background that I begin this series to make a few observations about copywriting and wine writing. I will return to this topic over the next few years to record what I have learnt as this should be of use to future copywriters.

Part 1 - Non Expert or Expert Copywriting

There are two styles about promoting wine which I label as non-expert and expert and this refers not to the expertise of the copywriter but rather their wine knowledge. Most copy writers are asked to write about all and everything and are only as good as the information provided by the client. Rare indeed are copywriters who have a profound understanding about all aspects of the wine business. The others then are forced to use a blokesy, jockular, narrative to promote the wine as they do not know enough to actually write about the wine convincingly.

Here is an example of the non-expert style which in the hands of a master can be most effective. This is from an email sent by Winemarket, a division of Cellarmasters, a direct mail house which began business back in the early 1980s. I must add I have no idea who wrote this copy and that person may also be a wine expert and chooses to write in the non-expert way as that is what was asked and also because the company is happy with the sales results.

The wine offer is for Penfolds Koonunga Hill 2009:

"Far out, Penfolds has been around for donkey's years. It's up there with meat pies, zinc on your nose in summer, a paddock full of kangaroos or Warwick Capper's shorts for Australian icons.

"You just have to see the crimson running writing going sideways up a bottle to know that the good gear is locked away inside it.

"So when some of the good blokes and sheilas at Penfold's came to show us the 2009 Koonunga Hill Shiraz, we put on our Akubras, threw out the welcome mat and busted out a bit of Waltzing Matilda.

"Meanwhile, the wine was a bloody ripper. Full flavoured but sophisticated, it shows plenty of ripe berry fruit flavor, but is smooth, juicy and delicious. It will suit those looking for a bit of extra oomph in their red wines but also want it to be very easily drinkable.

"We got a belter of a discount from the Penfold's mob too. It would be un-Australian not to pass it on, so we've slashed the regular price from $20.99 a bottle to just $9 a bottle specially for you. Bonza!"

This is quite good copy and I can assure readers the effectiveness or otherwise of this copy will be closely tracked by Cellarmasters.

The non-expert style has many uses. It can take away the intimidating aspect of wine with a friendly jokey tone. It allows of course a skilled copywriter to create sales copy about a product and topic about which they know little. Simply, a lot more copywriters can produce this style than the expert style.

Experts come with problems. Those who have immense knowledge of the wine trade and can write copy quickly while under pressure are literally nonexistent making recruitment a nightmare. Many act as prima donnas and no CEO will put up with antics for long. Hence basing a business on a general writer or non-expert makes more sense as if they get dissatisfied they can be replaced. Be very wary of the expert!

My experience though is that expert copy outsells non-expert copy. A compelling fact based narrative about the product coupled with a price buying advantage for the customer will outsell the same written in a folksy manner.

To write about Koonunga Hill the expert copy-writer could ring the winemaker looking for an angle. This might lead to a discovery about the technique in making the wine, the source of the grapes or specifics about the vintage. This could be woven with the history of Penfolds, the story of the first vintage of Koonunga, with perhaps a favourable third party review of the wine and may include a show medal count.

Where the non-expert runs out of puff is in writing a catalogue which requires pages of wine descriptions. The folksy style cannot be maintained and the customer loses interest. Only an expert commentary about why each wine was selected and what are the advantages for the customer in buying the wine can lead to buyers perusing dozens of wines over many pages.

If I was to highlight one of my career highlights it is to be able to write, in the same catalogue, about six or eight wines which to all intents and purposes are identical, a prime example being cheap sauvignon blancs from Marlborough, New Zealand. And when I say identical I mean some were the same wine under different labels. To do this you need a variety of techniques and I could swing from the history of Marlborough; to the soils, landscape and geology; onto winemaking techniques; then the history of the relevant company plus I have a fair knowledge of Moari myth and legend to use when exhausted. A good copywriter can always find an angle.

We must remember why we are writing copy. It is done to focus the customer on a single or range products and set out why they should buy this product and not another, such as the one they thought they would buy before reading the copy. When effective, great copywriting will create a profound shift on sales and thus profit margins which can be so dramatic as to alarm the business manager. Now in an Australian wine trade dominated by chains the emphasis is far more on little copy and a steady sales mix. The art is dying as anyone can see reading the Vintage Cellars catalogues.

Here are some more examples to show the difference of the non-expert and expert style.

Firstly another example of the non-expert style and alas I have no record where I took this from.

Villa Jolanda Sparkling Prosecco NV
Hopefully we've all had a bit of a sleep in, and our day ahead involves either doing something very exciting or doing very little at all! And in celebration, get a taste of la dolce vita with this classic frizzante Italian Sparkling Prosecco from Veneto, Italy - normally $22, even sweeter for you, our little Mofolitas, at 45% off for a spritzy $12 a bottle, $72 per 6-pack. Cin cin!

The Italians know how to do food and wine and big long al fresco lunches perhaps better than any culture in the world, and their deliciously charming Prosecco bubbles are the perfect aperitif to get such an occasion started.

Picture a Sunday lunch on the lawn, the delicate early Autumn sun licking the tips of your freckled shoulders and bringing out smiles as the memories of Summer fade away. Your favourite people in the world are sitting and laughing and reaching across the table for one of the dozen delightful dishes bursting with colour and filling the air with irresistible aromas, tempting and tantalising your taste buds.

There's an old man with a moustache and a fedora standing under the lemon tree playing "That's Amore" on the piano accordion, while Monica Bellucci dances barefoot in a red and white sun dress...

Alright, the old man in the fedora was probably taking it a bit too far, but a man can dream, can't he? Ladies - who's dancing barefoot under the tree at your place?

A tad lighter and less effervescent than Champagne, Villa Jolanda's Prosecco is utterly charming - delicate beads of white peach and pink grapefruit, apple and pear, in a light and beautifully balanced sparkling wine.

It's the taste of Italian summer, and if you can find some fresh peaches, then you've got yourself a Bellini.

We've got this at a very good price for you at 45% off in a 6-pack, and I should think that's the perfect excuse to organise a Spring Summer lunch of your own. Of course, Monica Bellucci will be over at our house, but we can see if the moustachioed accordion player is available for parties...

And next further examples of the expert style. The first I have taken from an email sent by Farr Vintners, U.K. about the Bordeaux, Chateau Malescot Saint Exupery 2009; a vintage of some significance while the next is the same wine described by Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate (as published in the Farr email).

By Farr Vintners, April 2010: "This is a Margaux property that has beefed up its wines in recent years but they are less powerful and extracted than those of Lascombes. Michel Rolland consults here. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot in 50% new oak. Deep colour, a sexy fruit bomb of ripeness. Smooth, modern and hedonistic. You could drink this now because the tannins are so soft, ripe and polished. Pure indulgence, a real crowd pleaser. 17/20"

Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, March 2012: "An inky/purple color is followed by notes of Asian plum sauce, forest floor, creme de cassis, black raspberries and a floral component that is unusual for a Margaux. A wine of exceptional intensity and purity with a full-bodied, sumptuous texture, lots of fresh vibrancy and excellent definition, this beautiful 2009 exhibits high but sweet tannin. It is more sexy than the 2005 was at a similar age, although their level of extract and concentration is relatively equal. Something about the 2009 reminds me of a Margaux version of St-Julien's Leoville Poyferre ... if that makes any sense. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2040.

"This is another fabulous effort from an estate that has been doing extraordinary work over the last 10-15 years. I enjoyed the 2009 as much as the 2005, perhaps even slightly more because while it has structure, the tannins are less aggressive and there is more succulence, flesh and texture in the 2009. 96/100".

Then two pieces I have written about Penfolds Rawsons Retreat. As a copy writer you have to write quickly so in a large catalogue of eight pages which may contain 50 wine descriptions and you need to produce a wine description about every 15 minutes to meet the deadline.

Save $84.00 a Dozen
Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Shiraz Cabernet
What a buy this is - back the car up and fill the boot! This is the cheapest price that the Rawsons has ever been in a Harry Brown store. We like the price symmetry of Penfolds wines; you can pay $600 a bottle for a Grange or $6.00 a bottle for the Rawsons. The choice is yours and what an amazing variety of reds Penfolds offer. Once or twice in your life we do suggest you share with friends a bottle of the glorious Grange - the pinnacle of winemaking excellence. But that delight is for the future and we deal in the here and now. Thus ask yourselves; is the Grange really 100 times better than this Rawsons? Or to put that another way; is it $594.00 better. Ponder that as you place a goodly amount of Rawsons into a glass and salute the Penfolds family, as after a fine English education they decided they would rather live in the newly developing British colony of South Australia and specifically the town of Adelaide. The rest is history and what a journey this humble red tells.

All About Balance and Tannin Profiles
Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon
The Penfolds winemakers have never been entirely happy making the budget red called Rawsons. They see Penfolds as a premium brand selling at high prices. Strange now to recall there was once a Penfolds wine cask and flagon. Anyway they no doubt grumble to management, are told to get on with it and are threatened with a big stick. So naturally they then do the best job they can and it's a very fine job indeed. You hardly need our advice about the merits of the Rawsons but it continues to offer value for money. The winemakers have nice things to say: "A medium bodied style with a long, even balanced palate. The ripe tannin profile provides a strong backbone supporting the vibrant blackcurrant and blueberry fruit flavours. French and American oak maturation provides a creamy texture and adds spicy aromatics." You can instantly tell a Penfolds winemaker wrote the tasting note because the talk is about balance and tannin profiles. A very easy wine for Down Und’r to recommend.

And lastly to compare with the opening copy about Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet here is mine, which dates back a few years, and because of layout/space restraints was limited to about 8 lines.

Renovation Now Underway
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet
You get a saving of $4.00 at this price on the beautifully crafted Koounga Hill. The most famous wine brand in Australia is Penfolds. If a wine carries that brand we all expect a little taste of Grange. The current custodian of Grange, Chief Winemaker Peter Gago is aware of that and has spent a lot of energy over the last few years remodelling the taste impact of Koonunga. Head office is so pleased with Peter’s impovements that they are now confident enough to launch a worldwide marketing programme. After a few years of indifference from our wine writers we note that a few are again recommending the venerable Koonunga. We think it’s worth drawing your attention to this wine and feel it nicely slips into our Best Value reds Und’r $10.00 even if only by one tiny cent.

In future articles I will discuss why I repeat words and place emphasis on key words such as Penfolds and why I do not think descriptions of wine sell the wine. And when I do use them I use the winemaker's own description and seldom my own.

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Reflections on the Art of Wine Copywriting - Part 1

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A Beer Giant Buys Fosters

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An Industry Living In Hope

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Australia Looks on in Envy

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Blending and Blendered Wines

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Becoming a Wine Merchant

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Sommeliers an Endangered Species

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The Mystery of Bio-Dynamics

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The Complexity of Wine Gives It a Marketing Advantage

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Reflections on Wine UK Retailing and Australias Role

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Population Growth Places Pressure on Wine Regions

Tuesday, 31st August, 2010

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Thursday, 5th August, 2010

Brother Richard Reports Aldi Bargain

Wednesday, 28th July, 2010

Early Ripening and Climate Change

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Red Heads Confusion at

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Decanter Gives the Barossa a Kick

Monday, 21st June 2010

Seppelstfield Changes Hands - Again

Friday, 11th June, 2010

Abusing the Good Name of Woolworths

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Bordeaux - Bubble Trouble or Flying Higher

Friday, 14th May 2010

Get Out of Business says a Former President of the Winemakers Federation

Wednesday, 12th May 2010

Corrections and Opinions on a Financial Times Wine Article

Friday, 7th May 2010

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Cocktails at the Connaught, London

Tuesday, 27th April 2010

Unusual Labelling and Outright Fraud - An Update on the Wine Trade

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Catching Up with AFWE

Tuesday, 13th April 2010

What a Load of Crap - Just Drink the Stuff

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The Brian Miller View - Y Should They

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Australia Trade Day

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The English Press is Very Quiet About the 2010 Michelin

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Vinderella and The Benevolent

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Martinborough Just Loves Te Muna

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More Wine Snobs and Know-Alls Detected

Wednesday, 25th November, 2009

The Two Buck Chardonnay

Wednesday, 4th November, 2009

Favourite Restaurants

Tuesday, 27th October, 2009

Is it Brett or Terroir - The Brian Miller View?

Tuesday, 27th October, 2009

Governments Picking Winners

Tuesday, 13th October, 2009

More About the 2009 Champagne Harvest

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Champagne - At All Costs Protect the Image

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Leave it Alone Will Ya

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A Lunch with John Duval - Ex Grange Custodian

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Power People in the World of Wine

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Oh Dear! Customers Slip the Boot In

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A New Critter Label - Hello Kitty

Wednesday, 17th June, 2009

Making, Selling, Grange and Other Wine Business

Sunday, 7th June, 2009

Advanced Mumbo-jumbo Aplenty in the World of Wine

Friday, 22nd May, 2009

An Interview with Mark Lloyd

Wednesday, 6th May, 2009

2009 Vintage May Be A Cracker

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Hermann Thumm of Chateaux Yaldara

Wednesday, 11th March, 2009

Winestate Wines of the Year - Surprises and Gimbletts Do Well

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The Gimbletts Shine a Light on a Difficult Problem

Friday, 13th February, 2009

A South Coast Surprise

Tuesday, 10th February, 2009

Cork and Other Closures

Monday, 26th January, 2009

Further News on the 'Drop of the Gods'

Sunday, 9th November, 2008

The Missing Trophy at the Barossa Wine Show

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Robert M Parker Meets His Match

Monday, 13th October, 2008

On One Hand Terroir Gets Bigger - On the Other it's Taken Away

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A New Meaning to Making the Numbers

Friday, 29th August, 2008

Oh to be a Tree Shrew

Sunday, 17th August, 2008

Who Wants a Winery?

Wednesday, 13th August, 2008

France the Birthplace of Sophisticated Wine Falls to Rosé

Wednesday, 30th July, 2008

Evil Aluminium Takes Over

Wednesday, 30th July, 2008

Where is the Harry Potter of Wine?

Wednesday, 30th July, 2008

Thoughts About Buying, Selling and Drinking Wines From Reading "Micro Economics and Behaviour" by Robert H. Frank

Sunday, 20th July, 2008

A Brilliant 30 Years - New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Sunday, 6th July, 2008

Where You See The Word Art Substitute Wine

Tuesday, 1st July, 2008

Simplistic Wines from Bordeaux

Tuesday, 1st July, 2008

Brands of Emptiness

Sunday, 22nd June, 2008

Specific Site or Blending?

Sunday, 22nd June, 2008

Thoughts from Reading the 2008 Gault-Millau

Friday, 2nd May, 2008

On Cats Piss and Fruit Bombs

Friday, 2nd May, 2008

Troubling Advice from London Sommeliers

Saturday, 26th April, 2008

Front Labels Help Sell Wine

Saturday, 26th April, 2008

Whatever Happened to the d' in d'Yquem?

Friday, 11th April, 2008

Alarming Ageing of Great White Burgundies

Friday, 4th April, 2008

Thoughts from a London Gastro-Pub Crawl

Friday, 28th March, 2008

Sparkling Wines that "Blew Us Judges Away"

Monday, 11th February, 2008

Alternative Closures to Cork

Monday, 17th December, 2007

Alcopops and Smirnoff

Tuesday, 11th December, 2007

A Message for Pinot Noir Drinkers

Sunday, 9th December, 2007

Bo a Perfect 10 Out of 10

Thursday, 6th December, 2007

Troubles at National Leisure and Gaming

Thursday, 22nd November, 2007

What About a Little Genetic Tweaking to Improve Flavour

Saturday, 3rd November, 2007

Martha Stewart Wines

Saturday, 27th October, 2007

An Update on the Unfathomable Idea - Terroir

Wednesday, 3rd October, 2007

Free Up Liquor Licenses in Sydney

Friday, 21st September, 2007

Unusual Admirers of Mateus

Monday, 6th August, 2007

Rosé - the Giant Wine Fraud Expands

Tuesday, 17th July, 2007

Retailing in Port Augusta

Sunday, 10th June, 2007

How Many of These Have You Tried?

Tuesday, 22nd May, 2007

New Packaging for Wine - It Will Happen

Monday, 14th May, 2007

Retailing Becomes "The Artist Of His Own Life"

Wednesday, 2nd May, 2007

All Crushed Apart from Brandies and Bundy

Sunday, 22nd April, 2007

Now We Have Fortified Terroir

Sunday, 22nd April, 2007

Marketing, Old Whale Bones and Wine

Thursday, 5th April, 2007

A Case of Begging the Question

Tuesday, 27th March, 2007

The Origin of White Wine Varieties

Thursday, 15th March, 2007

France Rules in the U.K. Wine Press - O.K.

Monday, 12th March, 2007

When You Get To Close to the Job

Tuesday, 6th March, 2007

The Wine Glut Creates Problems But Do We Have Another Problem

Thursday, 1st March, 2007

Climate Change is Underway

Thursday, 22nd February, 2006

The Wine Wankers Club Adds Another Member

Thursday, 22nd February, 2006

Tasting with Robert M. Parker, Jr

Wednesday, 15th November, 2006

The Making of Rolf Binder Heinrich

Monday, 14th August, 2006

Can't Tell Your Brett from Oak Flavours

Tuesday, 18th July, 2006

Starting Your Own Business

Tuesday, 27th June, 2006

I Find a Canberra Connection Running Georges in Adelaide

Wednesday, 26th April, 2006

Robert M. Parker Jr. Wins Our Australian Wine Award

Thursday, 26th January, 2006

A Note About the Winner

Thursday, 26th January, 2006

Australian Wine Patron of the Year Award

Monday, 16th January, 2006

The Crystal Wine Enhancer

Wednesday, 21st December, 2005

Major UK Trend to Wine

Tuesday, 20th December, 2005

From Vintage to Vinegar

Monday, 12th December, 2005

Waiting for Parker

Sunday, 11th December, 2005

A Problem with Penfolds RWT

Monday, 5th December, 2005

Financial Troubles but the Wine's a Winner

Friday, 2nd December, 2005

Personally, I prefer the '27

Friday, 2nd December, 2005

Sharp Differences of Opinion Over Mount Mary

Monday, 14th November, 2005

Dasher the Dog Shows How

Monday, 14th November, 2005

...midnight's all a glimmer

Monday, 14th November, 2005

The Parker Influence

Friday, 11th November, 2005

The Good King Tut Was In To the Red

Thursday, 27th October, 2005

A Look at Langtons Classification from 1991 to 2005

Monday, 17th October, 2005

Langtons Classification - We Learn How It's Done

Wednesday, 12th October, 2005

Bowen, Balthazar and the Barossa Show

Friday, 23th September, 2005

About Oak Barrels and A.P.Johns

Tuesday, 13th September, 2005

An Own Brand Victory

Friday, 9th September, 2005

An International Gong for the Experienced Four Year Old

Friday, 9th September, 2005

A Winemaker's Thoughts on Stelvin Closures

Monday, 5th September, 2005

The New Taste of Wine

Friday, 2nd September, 2005

Parker and the Swiss Chasselas

Tuesday, 9th August, 2005

Drinking From Special Wine Glasses

Thursday, 4th August, 2005

En Primeur Update: A Jonathan is Appalled

Thursday, 14th July, 2005

A Lunch with Philip White

Monday, 27th June, 2005

A Little Madness or a Sign of the Times?

Wednesday, 22nd June, 2005

Does the Truth Lie in Numbers?

Sunday, 8th May, 2005

We Catch Up With Winemaker Colin Forbes

Sunday, 8th May, 2005

A Little Bit of Madness for Whisky Afficionados

Friday, 1st April 2005

The Black Hill and the Sydney Opera House

Monday, 28th February 2005

Glug Talks to a Major Importer of High End Australian Boutiques

Saturday, 5th February, 2005

Is Cabernet Like Cola or More Like Milk?

Tuesday, 18th January, 2005

Expensive European Wines - Are They Worth It?

Tuesday, 7th December, 2004

Do We Need Rosé?

Wednesday, 17th November, 2004

Yering Station In Distinguished Company

Friday, 29th October, 2004

Will there be Closure on Battle for the Bottle?

Saturday, 23th October, 2004

Red Herrings in Cowra Show

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Tyrell Gives Cork The Flick

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Koonunga Screw Cap Ups The Ante In Cork Taint War

Tuesday, 9th September, 2004

Watch for the Sparkling Jimmy Watson Winner

Friday, 27th August, 2004

On Lust, Envy & Greed

Friday, 27th August, 2004

Notes on Australian Winemakers and the Australian Character

Friday, 20th August, 2004

What the English are Drinking

Friday, 20th August, 2004

Rieslings, Ready for Their Laurels

Friday, 20th August, 2004

Aussies on Top

Thursday, 19th August, 2004

High Fruit, High Alcohol; A Lesson From History

Wednesday, 23rd June, 2004

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