Thursday, 27 October 2011

Free at last!

Well that's it then - after 33 years, 3 months and 22 days, Tuesday signalled the end of my old career as a civil servant and the beginning of a new one as a "full-time" wine merchant. I use inverted commas as, apart from finding new and hitherto undiscovered ways of selling more wine, I also hope to be able to spend some time getting on with lots of jobs in and around the house that have been on my to-do list for far too long. Not to mention, of course, spending more time with TLD and riding my bikes (both the pedal-powered and motor-powered ones).

Although the opportunity to give-up the day job (and receive a lump sum and a small pension in the process) was too good to miss, the actual leaving was quite emotional for me. When you have worked for so long for the same organisation and met so many wonderful people and made so many good friends along the way, it is a bit of a wrench to say goodbye. Thankfully, the age of the Internet ensures that it is relatively easy to stay in touch with people, even if you don't see them very often. Having said that, I intend to do more than just communicate online with some of my old work colleagues, especially the team I have worked with for the past couple of years, who I can honestly say were collectively the nicest bunch of people I have ever worked with. And they gave me a mighty fine send-off on the day, with some very touching remarks on my leaving card and a cracking pressie............

Although I will miss my colleagues, I certainly won't miss the job or the organisation. Land registration is a worthwhile (in fact pretty essential) cause, and was once run by people with real concern for both the quality of the product and the welfare of the staff - people with real knowledge of land law and the registration process, who very often also happened to be born managers. These days, the ones who "manage" are pretty much detached from everything to do with the actual work (and the workers) and obtain their management "skills" from books, training packages, meetings and innumerable, totally pointless workshops. All they require these days is a room with a desk, a computer and a few spreadsheets - the ability to actually connect in a meaningful or personal way with their fellow human beings is purely optional. On the other hand, a once highly skilled and often specialist workforce are now - in the main - trained to do a bit of everything and be expert in nothing. It is (or was!) a depressing experience, although I am sure it is one which resonates with millions of other people who are caught up in their own particular version of the 21st Century rat race. Of course, I will be eternally grateful to the very people for whom I developed such a healthy contempt, for the fact that they are now - in a way - paying me to never darken their door again!

Anyway, now I've got that off my chest, I can get on with the rest of my life and be my own boss. Right............ Who wants to buy some wine? ;-))

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A sad day for Moto GP fans

My life is about to change drastically - and hopefully for the better - in a couple of days, when I finally leave the day job after 33 years. More time to attend to (and hopefully build) the wine business, more time to attend to things that need doing around the house, more time to do the things I enjoy and more time to spend with my family. I should be happy, but today I feel sad.

I turned the computer on this morning and logged onto the BBC website, intending to watch the Malaysia Moto GP on the iPlayer. Trying to avoid seeing the sports headlines, but having glimpsed the name Marco Simoncelli out of the corner of my eye, I assumed that I might inadvertently have seen the name of the winner. When the crash happened on the second lap, a terrible feeling of dread came over me. Simoncelli's front tyre slipped and then suddenly re-gripped, throwing him into the middle of the track, straight into the path of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, both of whom had absolutely no chance of taking avoiding action. It left Simoncelli lying face down on the track, his crash helmet having been ripped from his head by the impact with Rossi's bike. Rossi somehow managed to stay on his bike, whilst Edwards escaped with a dislocated shoulder. Understandably, Marco Simoncelli wasn't so lucky. I stuck with the TV coverage until the scheduled re-start time came and went, before reluctantly switching to the sports headlines. I knew what was coming, but it didn't make the sadness any easier to bear.

With his tall frame, huge mop of hair and a swashbuckling riding style, Marco Simoncelli was a hugely talented and exciting rider to watch. In what turned out to be a rather dull season for Moto GP, dominated by the amazing Casey Stoner, Simoncelli seemed certain to become one of the main challengers for the title in years to come. Though he raced a bit too hard sometimes and had his fair share of "offs", he seemed to be maturing as a rider, and a string of excellent finishes in recent races (culminating in 2nd place in Australia last week) promised so much for the future. But now that future has been cruelly curtailed and the world of Moto GP has lost one of its brightest stars. More importantly, Marco Simoncelli's family, friends and Team have to come to terms with the fact that their loved one has been taken so violently and so early. 24 years is far, far too short a life. Rest in peace Marco - you will be sadly missed. :-((

The late, great Marco Simoncelli - image courtesy of 

Back to wine very soon. Now I need to decide whether to go for a ride on my Honda..........

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The story of another eventful week - various tastings, VAT, annual accounts and other stuff

Things have calmed down a bit now (which is why I have actually found time to write this) but last week was just about as hectic a week I've had in a long time. Monday began with a full shift at the day job, followed by a quick dash down the A1 to deliver some wines, then across to the M1 to deliver yet more wines, then on to Stanmore tube station to park-up for a trip into central London. A few days prior, I'd received an invitation from Sud de France to attend a rather lavish dinner at The Connaught, to celebrate the Sud de France Wine Festival. It is not that often that I'm invited to partake of a free 5-course meal in a posh restaurant - with plenty of good wines to boot - and the opportunity to meet a few growers, wine business counterparts and esteemed journalists was too good an opportunity to miss. Luminaries from the media included Julia Harding MW, Tim Atkin MW and Oz Clarke. I'd never met Oz before, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and, at the same time, extract an email address from him(!) He's a nice fellow, and I just may take the opportunity to ontact him, with a view to sending him some of my wines to taste. Overall, it turned out to be a most enjoyable evening, with some fine food and wines and excellent company. 

Amongst some very good wines, there were a couple of real highlights; Domaine de Mingraut Passionément 2007 IGP Hauterive showed delightful aromas of crystallised fruits, blackcurrant leaf and elderflower and was velvety soft but with lovely structure - a gorgeous wine, which as far as I can ascertain is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, aged for a year in oak. I'm not sure why it isn't labelled as Corbieres (for that is where this estate is situated) but when the wine is this good, who cares? And then there was Domaine de Traginer Cuvée Foudre 2007 Collioure, which displayed all manner of herbs, exotic spices, citrus, incense and polished wood, not to mention some really lovely, concentrated fruit aromas. It is so complex and beguiling, yet so delicate and elegant, it is almost ethereal. Clearly the result of wonderful terroir and masterly winemaking. A quite brilliant wine.

The downside to all of this, of course, was that I got home at 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning and had to be back at the day-job a few hours later. Another full shift on Tuesday was followed by a quick dash home to get ready to go out again, for our monthly gathering at Le Mistral in Nottingham, to enjoy more wines and good, hearty bistro food. Amongst a very decent, if unspectacular array of wines there was one absolute gem of a wine, in the form of La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001. I must admit that I didn't write a specific tasting note (I've come to realise that on such occasions, it can spoil the overall enjoyment of the evening) but I do remember that it managed to be at the same time both immensely concentrated and surprisingly elegant, with ripe red and black fruits, exotic spices, restrained use of oak and all manner of secondary aromas and flavours. In fact, a wine to please both modernist and traditionalist (and I am very much the latter, where Rioja is concerned). It really is a fabulous wine, and one which - being made in relatively large quantities - is currently quite widely available; for example, £19 at The Wine Society or £17.50 at Majestic Wine Warehouses. Frankly, even at the higher price, it is an absolute steal.

Wednesday is usually what I call my "day off", but I actually had not one but two wine tastings. The first was in the afternoon, when I presented a selection of my wines to a group of - shall we say - more "mature" wine enthusiasts in the nearby village of Keyworth. The wines were extremely well-received and I think everyone went home happy. Then it was a quick dash home to box-up and despatch a couple of orders, before going out yet again, for a Rioja Gran Reserva tasting at Nottingham Wine Circle. In many ways, this was a rather disappointing tasting, in that there were so many wines made in the modern style (even from one or two growers previously known for producing wines in a more traditional style). Admittedly, there were a few rather decent wines, but none that really came close to the Vina Ardanza I refer to above. I will publish my notes from this tasting within the next few days.

Anyway, no less than 4 full-blown tasting events in 3 days is at least one too many in my book, and is not something I'd care to do too often. Under normal circumstances, Thursday would have provided a little respite, but not this time, for I also had the small matter of the quarterly VAT return and the annual Company accounts to complete. The VAT return doesn't normally prove too much of a problem, but this one did, for reasons (none of which are of a "sensitive" nature) that I won't bore you with. The Company accounts, on the other hand, always prove to be stressful for TLD and I, mainly due to the inadequacies of our bookkeeping software and the fact that we are completely at the mercy of our Accountant - and he does love to put us through the mill. ;-) It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it and in the end, we (or he) got there and the accounts were signed and delivered to Companies House on the very last day of September. Given that we could have began dealing with them anytime from January onwards, we really must get out of this silly habit of leaving things until the last minute - it would save us an awful lot of stress!

During all of these hectic goings-on, I did manage to find time to go out for a few rides on my Honda CBR600rr - which I have decided I will call "The Beast" - and to listen to the new CD by my favourite band, Wilco, entitled "The Whole Love". To my mind, this band can do no wrong, and if you haven't heard of them before, I suggest you check them out as soon as possible! And if you'd like to see just how good they are on stage, you can watch a fantastic 60 minute set by them, as part of a special season of gigs for the David Letterman Show on CBS. Check it - you won't regret it!

There will be plenty more posts on the way, now things have settled down just a little.