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Goodbye Society's French Full Red, hello Society's French Grenache


#1

Hello all,

A few weeks ago, many of you might have received an email from us introducing The Society’s French Grenache:

This replaced a long-standing favourite Society-label, The Society’s French Full Red. In the email, buyer Marcel explained:

Members who have bought The Society’s French Full Red in the past have helped make this wine a firm favourite for many years. In some ways this wine has become a bit of a victim of its own success: securing quantities at the correct quality was sometimes tricky, particularly in years of short harvests. The generic-sounding name didn’t really do the wine any favours, either – it was so much more than that!
There is always room for improvement and I wanted to find something even better to put under our own label. That is why we are saying goodbye to the French Full Red, and hello to the brand-new Society’s French Grenache

It prompted a few of the French Full Red’s biggest fans to get in touch to voice their understandable sadness at the end of this wine (which, to those die-hard fans who remember it way back in the day, used to be known simply as “110”).

This prompted Marcel to pen this heartfelt response, and I thought it was so lovely and so embodied the spirit of how much our buyers care about the wines they buy, I wanted to share it more widely here. I hope you’ll enjoy it:

Dear [member’s name removed],

I felt a need to respond to your to your melancholy note regarding the fate of 110 and 114 as both these wines are very much at the heart of my service at The Wine Society.

I joined The Society in 1986. At the time both of these wines were bought in bulk through Bordeaux. The red came from the Roussillon via Peter Sichel, an exceptional and well established merchant based in Bordeaux. Shipping in bulk had its drawbacks and the wines needed high levels of sulphur to withstand the journey. 113 was a rosé and was simply dreadful as I remember. In any case a decision was already made to close our bottling and that of course allowed me to seek elsewhere and closer to source.

After some research and helpful advice, I discovered the excellent little cooperative in the village of cases de Pène in the valley of the river Agly. Historically, all the Roussillon coops were geared up for the production of fortified wine but that market already began to collapse well before I joined. Vineyards had to be restructured as a result. One dreadful decision was to plant wholly unsuitable varieties such a chardonnay. Anyway to cut a long story short, the coop still had vines of Grenache and more importantly some old vines of carignan. What was more is that there was still some of these old vines planted on non-Appellation land. Nobody wanted it; the wines were cheap and I couldn’t believe my luck. And so the new 110 was born. At first we sold it as Vin de Table without a vintage. The blend was carignan and Grenache, sometimes with a touch of Syrah. Viticulture though is not static. Vines die and need replacing and decisions made are not always judicious. The wine buyer has to adapt! Over the years, the blend evolved. It was upgraded to vin de Pays and was given a vintage. And with that change, we said a fond goodbye to 110 as thereafter reference numbers changed with every vintage.

Finally the coop itself changed. The old guard with whom I had built up such a good rapport, retired. Worse, the coop lost some of its members including the owners of key plots of vineyard that had provided the backbone of 110. The final straw came with devastating frosts in 2016 which killed off most of the low lying Vin de Pays vines. And that was that.

A new chapter has started. The spirit of 110 is still there. I wouldn’t have had it otherwise. But we felt that a change in the name would help, especially with more recent members, more used to seeing grape varieties on a label. So it has become Grenache, even though and as the law permits, it isn’t all Grenache. And we have a new supplier who I hope will become a real asset for the Society over many years. On his father’s side he is of Catalan gentry with a history of making wine since the 15th century and on his mother’s side he is Scots with many family and friends already members.

I do hope you enjoy the new 110 and it would give me great pleasure to hear what you thought of it. It will taste different as for a start there is hardly any carignan in the blend. Instead there is marselan which is Grenache related and increasingly favoured, and about 5% Syrah .

With best wishes

Marcel Orford-Williams


#2

I’m sure that the sales figures will outline whether this change will resonate with TWS consumers as clearly as the old one did. Perhaps the previous ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude to the Full French Red was wrong and the wine should have been refreshed more often. Time will tell.


#3

As was explained (very well I thought in Marcel’s letter) TWS has no option; the vines the wine came from are no longer available (or even exist any longer). That is why he has produced a different wine that is a reasonable match for it.


#4

And regardless of the specific issue - it’s heart-warming to see a buyer taking the time to respond in person (and at length) to a member; it’s also a fairly unique chance to read about the sort of decisions and processes a buyer has to navigate through.

How often do we get that from any other commodities’ buyers…?


#5

Yes I have to say I found the letter fascinating giving, as you say, a an insight into some of the activities required of our buyers beyond just buying!


#6

Our buyers genuinely back all of the wines that they buy as they are free to go out and find great wines to share with our members. As mentioned in the letter, Marcel was on the ground sourcing only the wines he felt were worthy of The Society name on the bottle which can’t always be said for other merchants.

There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and if it all works as expected, no-one notices.