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How we buy Wine

25th May, 2016


I often get asked how we buy our wine at Clever Polly’s. Our wine selection comes from all over Australia and the world, so we work with a lot of small producers, distributors, and importers. It’s a lot of work- sometimes we’ll try hundreds of wines in a week to make sure that we get a good selection.
When first putting the wine list together for Clever Polly’s, I made it my mission to try as many different wines as possible, to attend every tasting, meet with almost anyone who asked for an appointment. Not only was this to make sure that we would have the best range we could but also to help with my learning. There weren’t all that many natural wines available at that time, so many of them were conventional, but each tasting taught me something.
Normally, when buying wine, it’s all about looking, smelling, and tasting. Then you asses; how good is the wine, does it have faults, how long can you age it for?
But because Clever Polly’s has such specific parameters and aims with what we do- supporting small producers working in a natural way- I buy wines differently to this. Of course I go through that same process but we are also interested in the back story behind the wine- the farming and the producer.
So I got into the habit of asking questions about these things, as well as tasting; it’s all of these factors, not just taste, that we consider in our final assessment.
But as the business has grown and we’ve had other staff helping out with the wine buying, we’ve come to realise that we need to have something in place to define the principles that we buy according to. So last year I wrote a wine buying framework, which we now use to guide our decisions when buying wine. This not only helps with staff education, it helps to define what Clever Polly’s is and what we do.
Once we’ve established that we are, in fact, dealing with a small producer (I won’t go into this here but keep an eye out for another blog post that will explain this in more detail), the emphasis is on farming. We like to know how the vineyard is managed; we’re looking for organic or biodynamic principles in the vineyard, or for the producer to demonstrate that it’s what they’re working towards, even if not certified. Preferably they are working towards not only mitigating disease and producing nice wine but also towards enhancing the natural environment that they work within. Hand-picked grapes and in the winery, no additions other than sulphur-  even then the preference is for at bottling- are also paramount. We like wines that haven’t been filtered or fined; I think that this strips flavour and texture (and therefore expression) from the wine. Not only do I feel that you miss out on something with these processes- kind of like orange juice that’s been filtered- I also feel that the wine doesn’t go as well with food.
We’re also interested in sulphur additions. I’ve become quite sensitive to sulphur in the last few years. Too much and my nose starts to itch and I get a headache. Not to mention how I feel the next day.
It also affects the taste. If you taste carefully, you’ll see how it deadens a wine on the mid palate. Sulphur is a natural by-product in wine, we know that, but I also feel that the amount of sulphur someone adds is an indication of the quality of the grapes, although sometimes it’s just caution. Each producer and each wine are different but most of the wines that we buy have 30ppm added or less.
However, there is some room for movement in our framework. Where we can see that someone is doing something good and interesting, then we try to support them. So long as their overall ethic fits with us and they seem to be moving in the right direction, we will be supportive and encouraging, so that they can continue to grow and learn, because then the industry can grow and learn.
The final part of it comes down to tasting. We taste at work and trade tastings but we also spend a lot of time in vineyards and wineries. This gives us a sense of the vineyard and winery, plus we get to try things from barrel and understand the wine’s evolution. We like to see all of this because we feel that it gives us a more complete understanding.
When we taste, we look for three main things; flavour, personality, and balance. And, of course, overarching all of this, deliciousness.

By Lou