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A multinational wine

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"Henkell is one of the world's most popular sparklings and one with a long and proud history ...."

Those words and the following blurb about how great it is are virtually the only words that I can find describing this particular wine, Which is kind of creepy. Indeed the whole Henkell thing is - another story of 'from little things big things grow'. The big thing in this case being the Oetker Group a German multinational that seems to have fingers in just about every pie, from wine, through hotels, digital innovations, logistics, chemicals to shipping and banking, even publishing. There are more than 400 companies involved and over 25,000 employees worldwide. And it's family owned. The little things from which this grew are two men - the founders - Dr. August Oetker, a pharmacist whose starting point was baking powder, and in the case of Henkell - Adam Henkell who sold wine in Mainz in 1832, and who in 1856 launched the first German sparkling wine, with his grandson Otto patenting the Trocken brand in 1896. And here are those two - presumably driven and remarkable men - August Oetker on the left and Adam Henkell on the right. They both look pleased with themselves. And so they should be I suppose.

The Oetker thing is just an aside really, it's just there because they are the ultimate owners of what is now Henkell Freixenet - Henkell having merged with Freixinet - Spain's largest sparkling wine producer back in 2018. Mind you Henkell had already taken over various other companies through the years. Wikipedia had such a complicated history, a tangled web indeed, that frankly I could not work it out. Suffice to say that by volume and value Henkell Freixenet is the world's largest sparkling wine producer. Now who would have know that? I'm sure we would all have thought it was Moēt et Chandon or one of the other big names. Though I do remember, when visiting Mercier at Epernay, being told that Mercier was actually the biggest seller of champagne. At one point Henkell seem to have had a vineyard in the Yarra Valley that made Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but I suspect this no longer exists, although curiously the website does with just a program of opera events and not much else. It's all very mysterious.

As to the big selling Mercier and Henkell Freixenet they are probably the biggest because largest consumption does not equate to 'best' because the bulk of the people who drink sparkling wine - just about everyone in fact - are not drinking top quality Krug, Tattinger or Dom Pérignon. Every kind of celebration features bubbly of one kind or another. And if you are throwing the party you scour the bottle shops for bargains. Which is where the above Henkell Trocken comes in.

Not that we were throwing a party - but somehow or other David came across a Henkell Trocken super bargain. It might be the world's biggest sparkling wine company but neither of us had thought of the Germans as producing bubbly. Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Moselle is what we think of as German wine. But come to think of it - Mumm, Krug, Bollinger, Tattinger ... The Germans were very interested in producing champagne, but, of course, it has to be made in the Champagne area of France. Suffice to say we were intrigued at the concept of German bubbly.

German bubbly has the name 'sekt' which means sparkling, and is mostly made by the Chamant method - in pressurised steel tanks, rather than fermented in bottles - a much more expensive process, although not necessarily a better one. Some excellent sparkling wines are made by the Chamant method - the current favourite - prosecco - for one. And if you want to know more about the best German sekt (not Henkell Trocken apparently) you could do worse than read this article by the Sparkling Vinos - Let's talk about sekt baby! The simply refer to Henkell Trocken as 'omnipresent'.

But back to David's bargain hunting. Aldi, Dan Murphy and Liquorland all had supposed bargains, which added to the pleasure of the chase for him. He loves bargain shopping. Aldi was the winner in this case - well they are German after all. So Aldi it was, and the number of bottles available was dropping so we bought four. And we tried it that night with dinner - well it was the weekend. Verdict - well a bit disappointing really. Not that it was bad, but it wasn't that great either. But then what can you expect for $11.99?

"one of the most consistent, cheap and cheerful wines ... You can count on it to deliver pleasant fruity flavours with honeyed sweetness and freshness to balance." Chris Waters - The London Free Press

And you know that was just about the only actual 'review', if you can call it that, that I could find on the net about this wine. That phrase at the top of the page - "Henkell is one of the world's most popular sparklings and one with a long and proud history ...." - was repeated over and over again on all sorts of sites - from those that were simply selling the thing, to those who were supposedly wine connoisseur sites. Which I also found marginally creepy.

A clue might be found in the statement in the Wikipedia article on Henkell & Co. Sektkellerei (their former business name):

"The Henkell Trocken brand was marketed very aggressively from 1900 to 1920, with large-format ads"

Maybe they have really tight control over what people say about their wines. It's odd though isn't it? Or maybe wine officianados consider it beneath contemplation. Although it's not that bad.

Maybe they also suffer from a past Nazi connection. At some point one of the female Henkells married Van Ribbentropp - Hitler's foreign minister and a notorious Nazi. Not that you can necessarily blame the Henkells for that. However, their lavish headquarters (see below), were commandeered by the Nazis in the war as the headquarters of the air force. And the Henkell archives have only been opened to public view since 2019.

But honestly - that was a long, long time ago now. And so they are a multinational - well lots of big names are if you start looking into them. Although one should never forget that just about every multinational began with one very hard-working, inspired and probably driven man. Not many of them are run by aristocrats - well I don't think so anyway.

But back to the idea of a bargain wine. It can be done. To this day my favourite sparkling wine was a wine from our Adelaide winemaker friend Stephan George - a very well-respected winemaker. It was not one of his own wines. On the side he had a line that he called Galah wines, which consisted, I think, of remaindered wines from various South Australian wineries. The individual winery was never named, so I do not know where this particular bubbly came from. But it was divine. It tasted of strawberries - and I am one who can never taste these things. And being remaindered - it was cheap. Bargain wines have been known to win coveted prizes - one of Lindeman's mass-produced bin wines was one of these one year I remember. I can't remember which now. It's a combination of good luck and much research and maybe insider know how that you will find you these treasures. So why not, just spend a little more, if you can afford it, and buy something special. That's what I think anyway. Special could have a money cap - say $40.00 so that for really special occasions you could really lash out and buy something superb. In some ways it must be sad to be a billionaire and have the best of the best all the time. What do you do then when it's your fiftieth wedding anniversary or your first baby's birth? The only constant there is that it would have to be a bubbly. And it would probably be French, though perhaps with a German name - and owner?

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." Mark Twain



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