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[For the uninitiated, a 'blog' (or weblog) is a web journal with links. This gives me a chance to add short, 'off the record' style items that wouldn't merit a separate article. I try my best to keep entries informal, frequent, brief and (hopefully) interesting. For more information about Jamie Goode, see the about the author section. ]

Sunday 22nd August 2004
Another sequence of late nights this weekend, finishing off the book. Iím now grappling with microoxygenation, after having dealt fairly rapidly with integrated pest management and lutte raisonee. I did allow myself time off to watch Match of the Day last night. City lost 2Ė1 to Liverpool, who looked very competent. Cisse is frighteningly quick and his partnership with the revived Baros looks a whole level above the OwenĖHeskey combination Liverpool used last year. If Gerrard stays fit, they could be in the championship hunt. Chelsea don't look to hot. Carvalho may have cost £20 million, but he looks like Lord Percy off Blackadder. Caught some of the V festival afterwards. What's up with Keane (not the footballer, but the band)? Good songs, but a band without guitars? Against nature. And Dido shouldn't play live. She really shouldn't. Hasn't anyone told her?

For drinks? Tonight itís Fevre's basic Chablis 2002, which is fantastic. Honest. Sainsbury, £8.99. To be followed by the last third of Castelnau.

Friday 20th August
I have a rather predictable life at the moment. When I'm not doing anything else, it's off to my study to read, read some more and then write. Everyone else has a nice time in the evening; I get to write until about 00:30, and then go to bed tired. I'm not complaining though. In the words of the famous song, 'it's a long way to the top, if you want to rock and roll'. And life could be a whole lot worse. I could be sitting here without any deadlines. Now that's a scary thought. My deadline is next Friday, when I'm off to Singapore and Australia.

It's currently 11.46 pm, and I've allowed myself a short break from the book to blog. I'm currently drinking another bottle of the Castelnau de Suduiraut 2000, a fine Sauternes for very little money. It's got everything you want from a Sauternes. First, sweetness and acidity in tension: Sauternes can often be a little sweeter than Barsac, without the same cutting acidity, and as a result can feel a little cloying. This Castelnau could probably do with a touch more acidity, but the balance is pretty much OK. [Temperature affects the perception of sweetness, so if you have a slightly cloying Sauterne, serve it ice cold. I've heard reliable stories of wealthy wine collectors serving Yquem so cold that there's ice in the bottle.]  Second, some botrytis - this is evidenced by the apricot/marmalade/spice characters. It adds complexity. Third, it has a lovely rich, rather viscous mouthfeel. I imagine Suduiraut were fairly rigorous in their selection in 2000, but this second wine is pretty smart at around £8 a bottle (75 cl). I bought three in France, and the last two will soon be gone, I suspect. Earlier on I opened a Vieille Cure Fronsac 1999, a recent purchase from Sainsbury, but it was disappointing. It tasted cooked. Heat damage in the UK wine chain will likely be an increasing problem if we have more summers like last year's. 

Sunday 15th August
Now Vouvray is an interesting wine region. We lunched here yesterday on our way through to Orleans, and took a tour through some of the vineyards (pictured right is an old Chenin blanc vine). The village itself is arranged around the theme of wine, with signs to the producers, shops selling Vouvray and rather dodgy looking caves offering degustations. Driving the short distance from Tours, you don't see any vineyards. The Loire is to the right and on the left are some imposing properties, backed by the tufa (a sort of limestone) cliffs. To get to the vineyards you have to ascend through the back roads - it's an odd sort of arrangement.  The wines themselves are heroically unfashionable, made from the Chenin Blanc grape and coming in all manner of sweetness levels, plus of course fizz. It'e perhaps for this reason that I'm drawn to them. My favourite producers are Huet (the leader), Aubuisieres and Champalou. They are wines that really do need a bit of age on them. 1989, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2002 and 2003 are the vintages to look for, but the older sweet wines are virtually immortal.  

Saturday 14th August
Weíre leaving the Charente today after a successful holiday, a little stiff after too much tennis and swimming. I didnít manage to sneak away to Bordeaux, a couple of hours drive away Ė that will have to wait for another time. Iíve been impressed by how consistently drinkable the cheap wine weíve been guzzling has been. The key to this seems to be to steer clear of cheap Bordeaux and Burgundy, and head for the South West and the Languedoc Ė and, because the last couple of Loire vintages have been very good, this is another happy hunting ground for those with an eye for a bargain. RhŰne would be on the list, but 02 was fairly dismal north and south and the supermarkets seem to be full of this vintage. Thatís not to say that good wines werenít made, just that your chance of finding them at random arenít too hot.

Iíve been concentrating on viticulture recently. Interesting questions: what exactly is the difference between varieties and cultivars in genetic terms? How does yield relate to quality mechanistically? Is there a molecular link between light signalling and the fate of uncommitted primordial? Do tendrils signal to shoots when they actually grip round a support structure? Where are the decent viticultural texts? (There donít seem to be manyÖ)

Wednesday 11th August
Irouleguy, again. I'm beginning to like this appellation. Managed to find one in a Geant hypermarket for 4.75 Euros, and it's a cracker (right). It has lovely, savoury structure with fruit, but a whole lot besides - plenty of minerality, in particular, that ill-defined component of wine. This is from the same producer as the one mentioned two blog entries below. If France can produce fantastic wines like this and sell them for under five Euros, its wine industry shouldn't be in the difficulties it is currently experiencing. These sorts of wines need an access to market in the UK without the sort of price hike that doubles or trebles  the Euro price to the consumer. Other wines enjoyed include a cheap Picpoul de Pinet, a full bodied Gaillac (a consistent appellation in my experience) and a well behaved Madiran.    

Monday 9th August
I'm in France. Staying in a gorgeous house in the Charente with two other couples and their nippers. The house belongs to relatives, and it's fantastic, with a nice pool and a decent tennis court. We've drunk a lot of good cheap wine, something France can do very well. Why is it then that it's so hard to find decent cheap French wine in the UK? We've drunk a couple of nice Gaillacs (cheap as you like with robust, savoury fruit), some Fronton (hmmm, meaty....nice), a couple of delicious Touraine Sauvignons and a voluptuous Sauternes (Castelnau de Suduiraut 2000, a bit of a snip at 11 euros). The weather is looking a bit dodgy at the moment, but I'm confident that we'll soon be back in the pool. Who knows - I might take a trip out to Bordeaux to gawp at some vines. Book progress is good. If anyone out there has some nice pictures that I can use - on any wine science-type issues - then send them in. I've got quite a few already, but seeing as my contract stipulates that I have to pay any fees for using pictures out of my royalties, I'm quite keen not to make extensive use of picture libraries.   

Wednesday 4th August
As I sit Iím sipping a rare purchase from wine shop Nicolas. Itís actually a lovely wine, but I paid about a third too much for it. Nicolas frustrate me. They stock a wide range of wines from all over France, with representation from a pretty comprehensive set of appellations. For this they should be applauded. But they rarely stock wines from the top producers, often being content with the second rate. And they overcharge significantly. Sometimes they are just a pound or two over the odds, other times they are substantially over. Two examples spotted today: a Mas de Daumas Gassac 2001 at £25.99, and a vin etrangere Castillero del Diablo Chardonnay at £9.95 (thatís double what Sainsbury charges). The Couly Duthiel Baronnie Madeline Chinon is a tenner, but Tesco stocked this not so long ago for £5.49. Anyway, I bit today because they had an Irouleguy (2001 Arranda, a co-op wine). Itís a Tannat-based red from the Basque country in the Pyrenees and it is very nice. An inky, savoury wine with lovely concentrated fruit, high acid and firm tannins. I paid £9.50, although this should really be closer to £6, principally because no one else stocks an Irouleguy. Even the obligatory (only modestly) snooty French guy was surprised Iíd picked it off the shelf Ė ĎDo you know this wine? We donít sell many of theseí. Iíve decided I love Irouleguy. If the coop wine tastes this good, what will a private producerís wine from this region achieve? 

Oh, the football was good on Monday night. Reading have a nice, compact stadium. City won 4-1 with goals from Reyna (2), Macken and Sibierski. Anelka looked sharp, as did Fowler in patches. Reyna and Bosvelt made a good partnership in central midfield, and Wright-Phillips oozed class.

Monday 2nd August
Blimey, it's August. Already. It's a daft time to be writing a book because this is just the part of the year where you don't want to be holed away in your study with a laptop and several dozen reference works for company. Off to France later this week, and then at the end of the month Singapore and Australia. The Aussie segment of the trip is taking shape nicely thanks to the kind help of some key contacts. After this, at the end of September I'll be visiting Trieste (handily placed for Friuli) and then in mid October it will be an eagerly anticipated trip to the Austrian wine regions. 

Tonight I'm taking my nippers to their first Man City game - a friendly against Reading. I'm hoping this will offset the evil influence of the Man UTD videos my mother bought for the eldest last week. I've been striking it lucky on the wine front over the last few days. Last night a bottle of the sensational Matassa 2002 (more on this later), plus a very enjoyable Gentil 2002 from Hugel, a brilliant and cheap Alsace white. The Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2003 and Ch la FessadiŤre Muscadet 2003 bought recently from Sainsbury also showed very well on a warm, white-winey weekend. 

Friday 30th July
After my recent rants about the performance of supermarkets, it was a nice surprise to pop into the local Sainsbury store and find seven bottles of wine that I felt urged to purchase. I almost bit on an eighth, Leoville Barton 1997 (at an attractive £21), but resisted. The seven were (with reasons for purchasing in brackets): Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (£7.99; Iíve got a soft spot for Constantia wines, and this is a good one); Sauvion Muscadet FessadiŤre 2003 (£4.99; brilliant organic Muscadet); Ch‚teau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 1999 (£10.99; this producer is consistently good and this is a good price); Hugel Gentil 2002 (£5.49; a fruity Alsace blend that is a good value quaffer); Torres Gran Sangredetoro 2000 (£5.49; spicy, oaky red thatís easy to drink); Castellero del Diablo Shiraz 2003 (£5.49; a big blockbuster style Ė great if you are in the mood); and William Fevre Chablis 2002 (£8.99; good producer, good vintage, a useful wine to have on standby). Nice also to see that Sainsbury had a 1978 Malmsey from Blandys, although the price (£49) takes it a bit out of my range.

The latest Decanter popped through the doormat today. Panel tasting of 2001 Crozes Hermitage and St Joseph. Two comments: first, Decanterís scoring system is nuts. 14.47, 16.8, 12.33789? If you have to score, why not use a 100 point scale? Have you ever seen a wine being marketed as Ď16.7/20 Decanterí alongside Ď91 Parker, 97 WSí? I didnít think so. Secondly, where I know the wines, I find some of their panel scores inexplicable. Of course, it may well be that it is my palate that is deficient. One of my favourite Northern RhŰne purchases in recent years was the Gilles Barges St Joseph Les Martinets 2001. This came near the bottom in Decanterís tasting, with 12.8/20. But itís a fantastic wine: bloody, meaty and rich, and Iím really glad I still have half a dozen bottles left. Does anyone out there find the Decanter panel tastings to be a reliable purchasing guide? Does anyone use them to steer their buying? It would be interesting to know.  

Sunday 25th July
It's been another action packed family weekend, but I've managed to squeeze in some book writing amid the hustle bustle and hurly burly. Eldest son's birthday on Saturday. He was 8. I would like to include more family pictures in my blog but I can't, for two good reasons. First, because as an old acquaintance Mike used to say, kids are like farts: you don't mind your own, but you can't stand other people's. And second, because our two cherubs are adopted, it wouldn't be prudent to give their names, post pictures of them, or make them traceable in any way other than through the correct, official channels. 

I've been stocking my Vintec unit, now the kitchen is almost finished (in the picture you can see we've still got to integrate the appliances and paint the walls, adding a splashback). It has room for 44 bottles. For any self-respecting wine nut this sort of capacity is filled without any effort. I have realized I've got some nice bottles. The idea behind this sort of unit is that you store stuff for near-term-ish consumption, whilst keeping the rest in storage. From my perspective, six bottle cases are ideal: you can then pull them out and drink them over a period where cabinet storage is going to be a realistic option. Pull a couple of 12-bottle cases and you'll soon be stretching your cabinet capacity unless you polish them all off fairly rapidly. I've almost stopped buying wine because I buy faster than I drink, and I can't really drink any more without running into difficulties. But I can buy less.  

My dear mother is a cause for concern at the moment. She bought our eldest son two football videos. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, and yes, he loves football. Obsessively. But these were Man UTD videos. What was she thinking of? How can I allow them in my house as a self-respecting blue? Does she realise the horrible position she has put me in? Did she do this deliberately? Was all that affection throughout my childhood and ongoing into my current post-adolescent (but only just) state a mere sham? 

Fiona (pictured right) has decided she's not 'into' Australian Chardonnay any more. Or any Chardonnay, for that matter, unless it doesn't really taste like Chardonnay (I'm sure she'd still knock back high-end white Burgundy). Our house white is therefore Torres Vina Sol, which is wonderfully fresh, a little bit aromatic, and a perfect match for a wide range of foods. At under £5 a bottle, little comes close. We also like Aussie Riesling, fresh Semillons and less extreme Sauvignon Blancs. There's lots of pretty good cheap white wine around at the moment, as long as you avoid the cheap Chardonnays. 

Thursday 22nd July
Splendid night out, yesterday. I took off my winewriterís hat and became corporate client for the evening, attending a tasting put on by French company Ficofi. They run high-end wine tastings for wealthy bankers: their market consists of bankers in sales roles who take their clients along. They are targeting a niche market, because these tasting evenings are heroically expensive. Theyíre held at five star hotels and include a posh dinner along with the blue-chip wines Ė the tasting can include a couple of hundred different top Burgundies, Champagnes and classed-growth clarets, together with more grand wines for dinner. The event I went to was a slightly less grand cheese and wine evening, held as a sort of thank-you to those who have brought clients along (I was a guest of my brother-in-law, whoís a banker), but the wines were pretty smart. I took notes (the only one there doing so) but I was mostly drinking rather than spitting. (It has to be said, the spittoons werenít overcrowded.)

We started off with white Burgundy and a range of Corton Charlemagne Grand Crus from Ď98, Ď99 and 2000. A Bouchard 98 and Faively 99 were both very nice. There were also some 2000 1er Cru Puligny Montrachets from Olivier Lefliave that impressed. On to the reds. Jaboulets Crozes Hermitage Thalabert 1990 is now at its drinking peak, and was evolved, spicy, and earthy. Of a long list of Clarets, Figeac 86 is evolved and drinking very well now in a savoury, earthy way. Pichon Longueville Comtesse 2001 is a very successful wine with lovely structure and a chocolatey edge to the fruit Ė thereís a hint of greenness but itís the sort that will integrate well with the wine in time. Pichon Baron 96 is now drinking well, or close to it, just having emerged as structured and firm as anything from a long sleep. Mouton Rothschild 96 is still asleep, all big and structured, but potentially pretty good. Cos 97 is a bit thin and should be drunk very soon. Some new world representation, although I seemed to be the only punter interested: the Diamond Creek Volcanic Hills 1997 impressed, and the Stonyridge Larose 1999 was also nice, in quite an old worldy sort of style.

It was a well organized event, and Ficofi staff were competent and professional. There was a good atmosphere, too: no sense of intimidation for novices. In fact, most of the punters really were novices. A lot of good wine was drunk rather unquestioningly, merely for its alcoholic effect. Still, I suspect this is the fate of a surprising number of the worldís great wines. Who knows? A few might just have been bitten by the wine bug from slugging back these relatively posh bottles.  

Finished off the evening in style with a quick dinner at one of my favourite places: Tendido Cero, a tapas joint on the Old Brompton Road. Dish after dish of close to perfect tapas, washed down with water, which is all we needed after a decent consumption of wine. It's a great restaurant: cash only and BYO, if you are planning to visit.

Monday 19th July
Completed my first e-bay transaction today. It was my fifth bid, and I won myself a copy of Redcard (a football game) for Playstation 2. Purely for my 8-year-old son, you understand. E-bay is fantastic. Itís a self-regulating system, where confidence in bidders and sellers is determined by a system of user-feedback. The opposite of Ďmicro-managementí, a current political buzzword. My previous bids included attempts to replace my Pentax SLR camera (approx £55 would have been enough, I bid around £50). Now Iíve decided that digital is the way to go: if any readers have positive experience of reasonably high-end digital cameras which I can replace my ageing HP Photosmart 6-something 2.1 megapixel camera, Iíd be grateful to hear from them.

The thing about e-bay is that it is an example of the effectiveness of the new internet-facilitated society. No longer need we be fettered by the prejudices people have about the way we appear and sound Ė this all becomes irrelevant. Instead, thereís a new meritocracy emerging where we are now judged by more authentic, substantive measures. More to the point, a wine writerís reputations can established by their output, rather than by their ability to schmooze editors and people in the know. Not that the ability to establish good interpersonal relationships is a bad thing; just that the barrier to entry has now been lowered to all. You've still got to be an editor's new best friend, but this special relationship is a bit easier to establish by e-mail. Communities such as e-bay, or wine bulletin boards, are now open to everyone on the basis of ability to participate. Itís a good thing.  

School sports day this morning. The highlight is not the egg-and-spoons or sack race, compelling as they may be. It's the parents' race. I missed last year's, but was worried by reports that some dads actually dipped for the finish line. Fiona attended one son's sports day on Friday and told me that one dad tore his hamstring, and another was left with a disillusioned, crying child when he came last (she was in the mum's race and did OK). At the other boy's event, today, I was reassured that most of the dads looked older and fatter than me, although one or two were wearing sports kit and flash trainers. I lined up with them all and was delighted not to come last: over the 60 m or so there wasn't much to separate us, and I came closer to the front than the back. Phew.

Wednesday 14th July
One of my hobbies is messing around with vines. Englandís a cold, wet place to grow grapes, but if you choose you varieties carefully you can get decent results in all but the most wretched summers. Over the last three years Iíve learned a lot about the grapevine. Times are a changing in the world of wine: previously winemakers got all the glory; now the mantra is that wine is made in the vineyard (I wish I had a case of decent wine for every time I heard a winegrower lean over to me, look me in the eyes and say in hushed tones Ė as if she or he were sharing a profound and unique truth with me, ĎWe believe that wine is made in the vineyardí, because then my cellar would be huge). My point is, soon we may be seeing superstar viticulturalists flying the globe (and not just Richard Smart). Compared with viticulture, winemaking is relatively easy.

One of the subjects Iím researching is phylloxera. Itís a remarkable story, and well told in a recent book by Christy Campbell (who, despite the name, is a bloke Ė I bet he had a torrid time at school). In a nutshell, phylloxera, like McDonalds, came over to France from the USA, an unwelcome import. In the USA native vines co-evolved with this aphid and developed resistance. With the 19th century craze of importing exotic plants, some idiot decided to bring over native American vines, which are resistant to fungal diseases that plague Vitis vinifera, but which make crap wine. The first phylloxera outbreak was in the southern RhŰne in the 1860s, and over the coming decades it munched its way through the roots of European vines. A scramble to develop a cure ensued. Flooding vineyards in the dormant season seemed to work, but had limited applicability. A chemical fumigation using an explosive, toxic compound had a limited efficacy, but was dangerous and cost a lot. Yields plummeted and fake wines abounded. Some proposed replanting vineyards with American vines, but despite denial in certain quarters, people couldnít get away from the fact that the resulting wines were nasty. In the end an elegant solution was found: grafting vinifera varieties onto resistant American rootstocks. Now almost everywhere vineyards are planted with such grafted vines, and a few still wonder about what the pre-phylloxera ungrafted wines were like, supposing that they might have been better. Still, there are plenty of ungrafted vineyards in Chile and Australia, and in places where the soils are sandy enough that phylloxera canít survive. Without this elegant solution, though, wine as we know it wouldnít exist. The terrible thought is what happens if phylloxera overcomes the American vine resistance mechanism? But thatís another story.

Wednesday 7th July
Iíve explained before on these pages why I hate the word Ďbusyí, which is a state of mind. For this reason, I wonít describe my current state as busy, but I will say that I canít remember a time in my life when I had my plate so full of things to do and my mental space so actively occupied. In the midst of it, Iím choosing to chill Ė or at least trying my very best. One of the ways I do this is by messing around with vines. Iím propagating them, growing them in pots, training them, planting them on my allotment and generally fiddling with them. Itís very enjoyable.

Besides the ongoing building work at home, Iíve got a book to write, which is taking a lot of my energy. The way I prefer to write is to research and fill my brain with thoughts, then bash it out quickly into writing. I then refine this in several stages to what I hope is sensible, readable prose. I also like to leave writing to near the deadline: it helps focus the mind.

Current topics on my mind include the following. Grapevine physiology: how new clones arise via somatic mutation and are then propagated; why lower yields make better wine; why old vines make better wine. Precision root drying: the role of abscisic acid and other plant growth regulators in the vineís response to water stress. Yeasts: whether they can be engineered or selected to make wines with more sensible alcohol levels; whether wild yeast ferments are worth the risk; whether wild yeast ferments really are that wild anyway. Brettanomyces: whether it can it ever be positive or complexing at low levels, or whether it should be eliminated altogether. I could continue, but you get the idea.

Iím also planning my Australia trip, which is now reasonably close (the beginning of September, preceded by a family holiday and an excursion to Singapore). Iím getting back into Aussie wine, after a long period of not really buying any. Iíve recently been quite excited by a number of garage wines from the Barossa, the wines of Mitolo, and also the Jasper Hill wines from Heathcote (which seems a particularly exciting region). Australia is a fantastic country, and once you get beyond some of the more commercial wines and the over-ripe, soupy critic-pleasing specials, thereís some really interesting wine being made.

Monday 5th July
Poor Portugal. I expected them to win the European Championship final last night, but Greece spoiled their party with a resolute and highly competent defensive display, nicking a goal that proved to be decisive. Even with the attacking midfield play of Deco, Figo and Ronaldo, Portugal couldn't find a way through. Greece, European Champions. Who'd have thought it? 

Watching the game I drank something Portuguese, and something special. It was Poeira 2002. I've already written about Jorge Moreira's wine before. Previously winemaker with Real Compania Velha, he's now working wonders at Quinta de la Rosa. His own wine is, in my opinion, one of Portugal's very best, and the inaugural vintage was 2001. 2002 is a little less showy on opening but has more structure and depth to it. It's elegant, concentrated and fully integrated, made in a style that's designed to improve in bottle. Most of all, I feel it's an authentic wine: not showing off or dressed up with oak and sweet fruit. Unfortunately, there's none available for the UK: I hope this will change. 

Wednesday 30th June
Sorry, non-football fans, for all this football talk on a wine blog. Inexcusable, but there are two things I need to say. 

First, I find UEFA and their attitude hard to stomach. In the last quarter-final, Denmarkís Gronkjaer clearly (to my eyes, and those of millions of others) cheated by diving and got the Czech Republicís best player, Nedved, booked. If Nedved picks up another card in the semi-final, heís out of the final. A potentially even bigger injustice. UEFA have refused to review film evidence. They are cowardly, in my view Ė afraid to risk having to admit that a referee made a mistake. This, I suppose, is the sort of conduct weíve grown used to from footballís governing bodies. It still sucks.

Second, on the subject of referees, the vitriol directed towards Urs Meier Ė the man who disallowed a potentially winning goal by England in their last game Ė has an element of humour to it. The humour stems from the fact that Mr Meier comes across as unbelievably vain. He has a website, ĎUrs Meier, refereeí, which has a fan club section. Perhaps itís a Swiss thing. Do Swiss children have posters of famous referees, rather than the players, on their walls? Iím worried. It also gives a chart of Meierís fitness test, with his vital statistics, showing just what a fine physical specimen he is. Heís clearly forgotten that fans donít pay to watch the referee. Call me old fashioned, but I donít trust an immaculately manicured ref with highlights in his hair.

Back to wine. Last night we enjoyed a nice 20 year old tawny from Ramos Pinto. Tawny is underappreciated as a style of Port: lighter in colour, with lots of spicy, nutty, toffee-ish, old wood character from long ageing in cask, itís got elements of Madeira and Sherry to it. Satisfying, long and complex. Tawny comes in various guises. 10, 20 and 30 year old are the most commonly encountered, but there are also vintage-dated tawnies known as Colheitas Ė these can often be quite profound, and they arenít as expensive as vintage Ports.

Tuesday 29th June
A little bit more football talk. Now weíve recovered from the disappointment and drama of last Thursday, Euro 2004 is shaping up to look like an interesting tournament. All the favourites are out. Itís hard to pick a winner, but Portugal, Czech Republic and Holland all look like theyíve got a good chance. Iíll be cheering for Portugal. Werenít England disappointing? Gerrard, Scholes, Beckham and Lampard all picked the same day to have a bad game. What a good jobe Cole, Neville and Campbell had good games or we would have been embarrassed.

Went to check on my little Ďvineyardí last night. The vines are mostly thriving, with big healthy-looking bunches of pinhead-sized grapes. Itís strange that some rows are doing really well and growing fairly vigourously, yet others a few yards away are growing very slowly. Most finished flowering before the bad weather last week. Iíve now found a source of wettable sulphur, and Iíve been spraying at regular intervals: in previous years my control of fungal diseases was inadequate and I didnít start early enough. My trellising is a bit of a mess, because sections of it have collapsed under the weight of the plants. Despite this, it looks like this year Iíll have a proper crop for the first time, and will be able to do some microvinifications of my own. Iím letting grass grow between the rows to compete with the vines and reduce their vigour a bit.

Why bother growing grape vines? Iím an amateur without enough time or skill to do it properly. But itís great fun, and gives me a small insight into some of the issues faced (on a very superficial level) by the sorts of people Iím writing about. I think wine writers owe it to their readers to understand winegrowing and winemaking at a resonably deep level.

Iím now in full flow with book-writing. Itís a challenge, and the deadline for manuscript delivery looms large (August). On one level I am excited by it; on another, Iím a bit daunted. I feel like a novice marathon runner must do after completing, say, 5 miles, with a long way still to go.

Wednesday 23rd June
More football talk. Sorry. So, Rooney is no longer the new Maradona, he's the new Pele. Even Pele says so, according to The Sun. A couple of bad games and this hype will soon be forgotten. The truth is Rooney is very good indeed, an exceptional talent, but he's only 18. There's a world of difference between being an exceptional talent and being a 'great', like Pele. The talent needs to be coupled to perseverance, temperament and a dollop of luck. Look at Gazza. He could have been one of the game's greats, but flawed in the head he burned only briefly. Ryan Giggs was the new George Best, but despite being a model professional with talent oozing out of him, he's lacked the sort of exposure on the international stage that would have propelled him to true superstardom. All it will take is Owen to score a hat-trick in the next game and Rooney's exploits will likely be forgotten.  

On Thursday we have Portugal. If England lose to anyone, I'd like it to be to Portugal. I'll be drinking something Portuguese but cheering for England, of course. Should be a great game. 

Monday 21st June
Iím growing increasingly tired of media hype. It sucks, it is bad journalism, and I donít care whether it sells papers and magazines or not, Iím not going to do it. Itís increasingly evident in sports journalism. It seems it is no longer possible to report interestingly, creatively yet accurately on sports events such as a football match. Instead, you have to leap straight to hyperbole, to the realms of heroes and villains. Wayne Rooney scored a couple of goals against Switzerland. Now heís f***ing Maradonna. Give me a break. A team or player does well and the hacks talk them up to near-deity status. They have a bad game and they are suddenly finished. It doesnít have to be sport Ė this applies to politics, too. And wine (20 hot reds you must buy now; Bordeaux 2003 the best vintage of the geological bl**dy era; 14 devastatingly good swiss winemakers, etc.). And we put up with all this nonsense.

Lots of people want to be wine journalists. This means itís a crowded field. You take your first few steps and there are seemingly dozens of new entrants snapping at your heels, as well as the scores further out in front who you are trying to catch up with. For this reason, itís important to take some time to consider how you are going to respond to your colleagues, and therefore by necessity your competitors. There are a number of strategies. First you can be aggressively competitive to all. I guess this strategy is a self-consistently honest one, even though it seems fatally flawed. Second, you can be unfailingly nice to those ahead of you (who might therefore help you) and be nasty or duplicitous to those below you (who have nothing to offer you and who could take your place higher up on the ladder). I donít like this idea. It may be Ďhumaní, but itís inherently dishonest. It sucks. Itís ugly.

I prefer a third strategy. Be nice to everyone. Help and be friendly to all, even those who are your direct competitors. Why? Look at it this way. If you are worth your place (however lowly) in the wine pecking order, why be insecure? If there are people better at what you are doing below you, then donít they deserve the place you have more than you do? If thatís the case, do all you can to hasten their progression. If there are those above you who are less talented, then donít worry: just keep doing your best and hopefully in time this will be recognized. If it isnít, then thatís life. This third strategy really is the best in the long run, although itís hard to implement perfectly. It helps you sleep more soundly, too.

A more pressing issue is that England kick off in 13 minutes and I'm on a train, 12 minutes from my destination. Wonder what the headlines will be tomorrow? 

Sunday 20th June
In the departure lounge of Kalamata airport, in the Pelopennese (which my gazette tells me is the mountainous southern peninsula of Greece - I had to look the spelling up). I've had a week away, but not this time for the purpose of looking at vines. Instead, it was a family holiday. We took a Mark Warner family activity holiday, at their San Agostino resort. Mark Warner run all-inclusive, action packed holidays. They are package holidays for the well heeled. The lure for us was (1) they were running some very substantial discounts for June, bringing them into the range of the likes of us; (2) the fact that the kids are looked after from 9 am-1 pm and then 3 pm - 5.30 by a band of nannies running event-filled kids clubs; and (3) the sailing. I used to sail quite a bit, and took four or five holidays on the Norfolk Broads with mates. But this was dingy sailing, on Picos, Fevas and Lasers. I had to learn to sail all over again in the little, responsive, easily capsized dingys. Never was journeying without a purpose such fun. 

As for the all-inclusive element, I was a little apprehensive about what we'd be made to eat and drink. In the end, the food was OK and the free wine - a house red and white - was OK. It was a bit weird to be drinking the same wine at lunch and dinner for seven consecutive days. But we got used to it. Both were respectable without being terribly interesting. It's wine as a commodity, the way, I guess, that most people drink it. And I guess we didn't miss too much on the food front. I've never thought of Greek holiday destinations as stop offs for gourmet food, even though I quite like Greek food. 

The staff were very good indeed, and the other punters were good company. It seems horribly snobbish to say this, but on a more expensive holiday you end up being surrounded by people who tend to behave nicely, even if they might not be any nicer as people. Sounds an odd way of putting it, but I hope you understand what I mean. And I played five-a-side football most nights, and saw England lose to France and beat Switzerland.   

It's been refreshing to be free of internet and e-mail for a week. While I value them immensely, it's always good to take a break now and then. In the Internet Age, taking a break is becoming just about impossible, unless you are extremely disciplined. Why? We think we are too important to have down time, and we have kidded ourselves that we can be free of the normal constraints of the rhythms of our humanity - work and rest being a primary one. 

Sunday 13th June
Poor old Portugal. They kick off Euro 2004 by losing to Greece, putting in a fairly inept display in the process. It must be disappointing to be hosting the tournament and having a shocker on the pitch, and I hope they can pull it around in their next two matches against Russia and Spain. England kick off tonight with a tough game against France, but weíre flying to Greece tonight, so depending on the reliability of the airline thereís a chance weíll miss some or all of the game. Expect weíll lose anyway.

Had a nice time tending my vines yesterday. Theyíre just about to flower, and the forecast looks fantastic. Flowering is one of those times where the weather really matters, and you want some warm, settled conditions. The three and four year old vines have lots of big flower clusters, so things are looking promising. I finally managed to track down some wettable sulphur (you have no idea how hard this has been), and Iíve now sprayed them all well. In previous years Iíve had to make do with powdered sulphur, which is hard to apply evenly, and Iíve waited too long. You need to get in there early, before the vines are showing any signs of disease.

Because Iím travelling, the next update will probably be a week from today, for which I apologise.

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