The Wine Column: What a corking year!


Words by Darren Willmott of

As we head towards the end of the year let’s take a look at the developments in some of the stories this column has covered in 2019.

In January we chatted to Peter Stafford-Bow, author of wine novel Corkscrew. With rave reviews the book ended up as runner up in the People’s Book Prize. Not bad for a debut novel, especially when judged by the public rather than critics.

Dry January was also a hot topic and it was widely reported that despite the view that ever-health conscious millennials are snubbing alcohol, overall January sales actually grew by 2.9% year on year (vs. overall supermarket sales growth of 1.7%). Perhaps it was all the pre-buying for the end of January abstinence celebrations?

In March/April we talked about cannabis wine and orange wine respectively.  Both niche styles classed as ‘on-trend’ and building their places in the wider market, the major news on the cannabis front is that brewer Molson Coors have pledged to have their products in Canadian stores by December.


If market testing goes as planned it may not be long before they hit our shores, but at the very least we can try them whilst abroad.

Orange wine has also made a stride forward.  As well as being available in M&S you can now find ‘Litmus’ (an English offering) in Waitrose, which will undoubtedly have an impact on awareness and sales.  Orange wine has also been added to the syllabus of the WSET, the industry’s leading training and certification body.

In May we looked at the defunct tiny Theale vineyard of wine giants Laithwaites.  There’s been a lot of talk this year about the 1969 moon landings but it’s also been 50 years since Tony Laithwaite first took a job washing bottles in Bordeaux, founding the empire that is still family run today.  His book ‘Direct’ was published to positive reviews and is a very entertaining read.

June saw one of our biggest stories of the year looking at climate change, the effect on the wine industry, and the need for warmer climate grapes in previously cooler regions.  Whilst not as universally good as 2018 there’s been pockets of crazily warm weather across Europe for the 2019 vintage.

Bordeaux saw its hottest July day ever recorded – a blistering 41.2°C.  In a major (and very rare) change to French wine laws the Bordeaux grape stalwarts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot will now be joined by 7 newly authorised grapes.

These include two incredibly successful varieties hailing from the more southerly Portugal, the red Touriga Nacional and white grape Alvarinho.

And finally, we recently looked at the Trump state banquet and what dignitaries drink at such events.  With Boris now firmly in place as PM, we now have the chap who has enthusiastically professed his love for top Italian wine Tignanello (£86+ per bottle).

He may look like a beer man, but he has some very expensive tastes.