A conversation with Matthew Jukes: Australia, technology and the future of the industry

Matthew Jukes is a British wine writer with over 30 years of experience in various sectors of the industry. Specialising in the wines of Australia, Jukes also produces annual reports on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piemonte, which can be found on his website – matthewjukes.com. This month, Jukes kindly set aside some of his time to talk to us about his writing career, Liv-ex’s role in the wine market and the importance of technology in the trade.   

How did your wine writing career start? 

I was asked to write a book by publishers Hodder Headline after I presented a wine show on Channel 4 back in 1999. This followed three years of my weekly radio slots on BBC’s FM London station GLR, where I hosted winemakers and did wine tastings on air.

What are some of the challenges you face as a wine critic?

The most challenging aspect is time management. It takes an inordinate amount of time to wade through anywhere between 500 and 1,000 bottles per week and that is before I sit down at my computer and sort through all of the dross to decide upon which I will actually write up. So, in effect, the actual writing bit is much easier than the immense amount of effort taken in order to find worthy wines in the first place. I find that I only write up or talk about 2-3% of the wines that I actually taste. It is easy to spend a day or two tasting for 10 hours a day and come up with nothing which makes the grade and this is more than challenging because I only get paid when I submit an article for publication! 

You are one of the world’s leading experts on Australian wine. What do you love most about it?

The incredible level of quality found in all corners of the country coupled with the extraordinary value for money.

How has Australian wine changed in recent years?

Australian winemakers never sit still. It is in their DNA to refine and evolve their wines every single year, so the entire category gets better and better as the years pass. This attribute is not unique in the world but the Aussies are the masters of ever-improving wines.

What Australian region(s) are exciting you the most at the moment and why?

There are great wines made in so many sub-regions of Australia but the Mornington Peninsula is kicking some great goals right now. It’s easy to overlook some of the more time-honoured regions though, like the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and Margaret River because we think we know them so well, but regions like these are indistinguishable from ten years ago thanks to the commitment and talent of those working in the vineyards and the wineries. Australia has never made better wine than it does today.

Penfolds was the only Australian label to feature in last year’s Power 100 – our annual list of the most powerful wine brands in the world. Why do you think this is?

Funnily enough, Penfolds is my 100 Best Australian Wines 2019/20 Report Winery of the Year. It is no surprise that this company hits the high notes internationally because of their unique combination of sheer quality, volumes of production and global story-telling expertise. There are few winemakers in the world who travel as much as Peter Gago and he is the most fascinating and experienced front man of any world winery. I gave two Penfolds wines 20/20 this year and this is the only winery to gain two perfect scores. I am certain that, in the future, there will be more wineries in your Power 100 given Australia’s innate ability to make wines which age for such a long time. This country is packed with wines which connoisseurs and collectors should be putting in their cellars. I hosted a few dinners recently, showing older Aussie reds and they amazed people with their class and control.

Which Australian producers should we be keeping an eye on? Are there any rising stars?

To give you an idea of how the UK market is still open-armed when it comes to Australian wines, there are no less than 16 newcomers in my 100 Best Australian Wines Report this year – Bekkers, Hesketh, David Franz, Deep Woods, First Creek, Langmeil, Lenton Brae, Lowboi, Oakridge, Oliver’s Taranga, Polperro, Punt Road, Silkman, Sir Ian Botham, Soul Growers and Yarra Yering.

In addition to this, here is a list of the top 40 wineries in 100 Best since I started this Report 16 years ago.  This covers the wineries with the largest number of wines featured, in alphabetical order: Brown Brothers, Chapel Hill, Charles Melton, Cherubino, Cullen, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli, First Drop, Fox Gordon, Glaetzer, Grosset, Hardys, Jacob’s Creek, Jansz, Jim Barry, Leeuwin Estate, McWilliam’s/Mount Pleasant, Mitolo, Moss Wood, Mount Horrocks, Mount Langi Ghiran, Paringa Estate, Penfolds, Petaluma, Peter Lehmann, Pewsey Vale, Shaw & Smith, Skillogalee, St Hallett, Stonier, Tamar Ridge, The Lane Vineyard, Tim Adams, Torbreck, Tyrrell’s, Vasse Felix, Wakefield/Taylors, Wirra Wirra, Yalumba and Yering Station.

The Bordeaux 2018 campaign has now finished. How would you describe the quality and style of the wines in general? Are you looking forward to tasting the wines in bottle?

I raved about some of the 2018s in my En Primeur Report, noting that some Châteaux made their finest ever wines in this vintage. However, others dropped the ball. I tasted 344 wines and visited 55 individual Châteaux during the En Primeur week and while writing over 30,000 words about these wines I could not go into autopilot for a moment. This was because every single wine was unpredictable in one way or another. It was a vintage where I had to concentrate like no other and this made it a challenge and also a fascinating vintage to assess. The 2018s are juicy and generous wines, on the whole, and the finest will live long. I am sure that the best wine will have the magical quality of drinking young but holding remarkably well. This makes them a great vintage to own but at what cost?

As an ex-merchant and wine buyer, what did you think of the pricing of this campaign?

Unfortunately, the prices of many of the wines were too high and this has inevitably affected sales. Bordeaux seems to have fallen out of love with its own creation, the En Primeur system itself. I get the impression that many of the Châteaux would rather hang onto their wines and release them down the line at more expensive prices. En Primeur was set up to reward keen wine lovers with competitive pricing which benefitted their own cash flow. Many of the top Châteaux are swimming in cash so this is not a system that they are genuinely behind any more. Of course, outside of the famous names there is a need to sell futures but these wines are often overlooked. This is why I make such an effort to highlight those estates whose wines are priced fairly, but who have knocked it out of the park in this vintage. This is where I have spent my own money.

Having worked in the UK wine industry for over 30 years, do you think it is still rather traditional? What’s its appeal to the younger generations?

I think that there are still a few stuffy corners of the wine trade still in existence but if you bear in mind that I wore a suit and tie to every tasting I attended back in the 80s and now you see all manner of fancy dress at tastings today, it is safe to say that a lot has changed. As far as appealing to the youth is concerned, it is a generous if not wildly well-paid business and the generosity is found in all corners of the industry. People give of their wines and their knowledge freely and so a young person can fast track their knowledge if they desire, find their voice, and make a decent living in our wine trade. They just have to be prepared to work hard because from the outside it looks like we all swan around drinking and eating but in reality it is very different. Young people will find themselves having amazing access to famous winemakers and wines very easily and this is very exciting and rather unusual in the greater scheme of things.

How do you see technology having a positive impact on wine merchants?

Technology should be our friend. Accounting, stock control, order fulfilment, information flow and communication all benefit from cutting edge technology. If you employ technology correctly it can give you more time to do the parts of our business which machines have yet to conquer – tasting wine!

From your perspective, what is your view on the role of Liv-ex with respect to the fine wine market?

Liv-ex is a sort of lie-detector and truth seeker in our profession. The reports are stunning and the platform itself is highly respected. The data is second to none and if you are remotely serious about trading wine then I always recommend that people refer to Liv-ex.

What would you do to make the market for wine more transparent, efficient or safe? 

I would try to eliminate fraud, fakes and theft. There are too many wines being stolen from ‘safe’ warehouses these days and this should be stopped. Also, everyone must take a look at their own insurance for their wines in storage – make sure it is insured at full replacement price.

What is the best wine you have ever tasted?

The most memorable was 1947 Château Cheval Blanc. I was carrying out a monthly stock check at Bibendum Restaurant when I was the consultant there and I noticed a drip drip drip of red wine on the floor of the cellar. I ran my hand up the bottle necks vertically and stopped when I reached a wet bottle. My heart nearly stopped when I realised it was the ’47 Cheval Blanc. I slid it out of the rack and saw that the cork had fallen into the wine but the capsule was still holding the wine in save for a tiny hole in the lead through which the wine was dripping. I assume that the bottle top was knocked by a cellarhand and it had pushed the frail cork into the bottle. Anyway, there was only one solution – to abandon the stockcheck, call everyone to the cellar and sit down on upturned wooden crates, at about 10am, and drink it. I dedicated my first book (Wine 1999 – mentioned above) to this exquisite bottle of wine.

What would you consider to be your greatest career achievement to date?

Spotting my wife-to-be at a Laytons tasting and having the wherewithal to ask her on a date several months later when someone tipped me off that she had broken up with her boyfriend.

How do you see the future of matthewjukes.com?

I will continue to evolve my website and stay true to my mantra of offering all of my paid wine writing (Daily Mail, MoneyWeek, Vineyard and others) for free while charging members to read my own four in-depth annual Reports – Bordeaux En Primeur, Burgundy En Primeur, 100 Best Australian Wines and Piemonte. I am lucky to have members from 29 countries to date and so the reach of my work from my garden office in Battersea to a worldwide audience is truly humbling. Add to this my global 100 Best Australian Wines Roadshow, which will host six events in China in the next few months and matthewjukes.com is firing on all cylinders. I could not do this without the generosity (mentioned above) of the global wine trade and this includes my friends at Liv-ex.