CALGARY - Even as he approaches his 75th birthday, Australian winemaker Wolfgang Blass shows no signs of slowing down. Self-described as a workaholic and likened to the Energizer battery bunny by others, Blass can be seen as the last of the old guard vintners whose personality and name became as popular as the brand they promoted.
During a recent luncheon in Calgary, Blass wanted to talk about his present projects as much as revisit his storied past achievements that shaped the current popularity of wine around the world. A master marketer who once famously said that his wines made strong men weak and weak women strong helped convert Australia's beer-drinking population into savvy wine consumers. The rest of the world (outside of the traditional wine drinking regions of Europe) followed suit.
Over the years, the German native who moved to Australia in 1961 developed innovative marketing strategies and opened up export markets by crafting easy-to-appreciate wines with smooth textures and lots of ripe fruit flavour. His consumer-friendly approach also extended to his labels. He linked the various wine varieties produced to individually coloured labels, such as the pioneering Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon, which remains one of Canada's top selling wines.
Wolf Blass Wines currently produces 65 million bottles of wine each year, with Australia, Ireland and Canada representing its top three markets.
These days, Blass focuses his attention on two pet projects. He's looking to promote Riesling, a wine white often over shadowed by Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, through a competition he helped found in Australia.
He is also trying to work with the international wine community to reduce alcohol levels in wine, particularly red wines that have come into fashion thanks to influential American critics like Robert Parker Jr.
"Alcohol is going to be the big, big thing challenged by health authorities," warns Blass, who shudders at the rising number of red wines with alcohol levels of 15 or 16 percent. Traditionally, the alcohol content of most wines hovered between 10 and 12.5 percent. "Wine is a beverage of moderation — we should never, ever associate alcohol with the context of wine."
Since selling the company in 1996, Blass has remained a roving ambassador for Wolf Blass Wines specifically and Australian wines in general. It's a role he happily embraces.
"There's a lot of responsibility," he explains, adding that he is continually asked why he hasn't long since retired. "How would you feel if it were your name on 65 million bottles?
"It's an amazing thing. You can't put your head in the sand and say, ‘I don't want to do it anymore.'"
Wines of the Week:
Wolf Blass Wines 2007 Red Label Shiraz / Cabernet
South Eastern Australia $14.95 Ontario / $14.99 British Columbia / $15.49 Alberta (311795)
This blend of Shiraz and Cabernet is produced with grapes from a wide expanse of Australia's winegrowing regions to ensure consistency from vintage to vintage. This medium-bodied red showcases all of the Wolf Blass hallmarks: it's well made, with appealing fruit flavour and a smooth, soft texture.
Wolf Blass Wines 2007 Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon
South Australia $16.45 Ontario / $17.99 British Columbia / $18.99 Alberta (251876)
The new vintage of Wolf Blass's iconic Yellow Label checks all of the boxes for an easy-to-appreciate, ready-to-drink red. This is smooth, soft and seductive, with appealing bright acidity and a nice finish that makes it a great sipping wine as well as a suitable dinner companion.