The Wine Trade and Social Media

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade is quite active on social media – and twitter in particular – and to some extent it is. But I don’t think that the trade is using it as a tool as well as it might, in fact I think generally the trade in general is pretty poor.

There are individuals who do use it well, and those people are the ones who use it to create conversation and discussion – it’s the communicators who do it well. People like Jamie Goode and Tim Atkin engage with their followers, each other and with others in the trade. Whenever I’ve been part of anything remotely useful on Twitter at the heart has been a discussion and more often than not you find a wine communicator at its heart.

But here’s the thing – most companies do it badly – really badly. Twitter has become less about the conversation and more a speaker’s corner. The vast number of corporate tweets (not including retweets) that I see from the wine trade can be summed up in three categories.

1. A shout of ‘BUT THIS – ITS REALLY GOOD’ or LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME NOW!

2. An attempt to increase follower number – please follow me – in fact if you do and RT this tweet we’ll give you the chance to win something nice.

3. Sorry for messing up, we’ll try and fix it for you.

Now unfortunately none of these is actually going to add any real value to your business. Consumers are too savvy to just click on a buy me offer on twitter – unless the offer really is too good to be true – there is no harm in highlighting an offer or event but don’t make it your entire twitter conversation.

Equally do you really think the vast majority of numbers of followers you just picked up by offering a free bottle of Champagne are going to actually be loyal followers, care what you have to say or indeed ever buy anything from you? No they want to win something – and there is a whole raft of prize hunters out there who’ll follow anyone (even temporarily) if it gives them a chance to win something.

Now the third style is useful, you are engaging your customer and do have a real opportunity to do something about it in the public eye – but do you really want the majority of your useful engaging tweets to be apologies for letting down a customer? Thought not.

So here’s what we’ll do – I have some ideas to put forward over the coming days / weeks months – but  rather than write more now (this post is long enough) we’ll cover each one one post  at a time.

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The Goat Collective

OK so nothing exists called The Goat Collective – at least not yet – as far as I am aware anyway – there could be a bunch of goat farmers somewhere who have formed a band – but for now suffice to say – it doesn’t exist.

No this post is more about how the wine business ‘usually’ goes about getting wines from producer to consumer at the high end – small producer level. This piece comes into being on the back of a Facebook thread talking about getting wines from a particular producer available in the UK. The Goat of the title is an affectionate jibe at a popular and generous wine enthusiast and during the thread I jokingly suggested that I should set up ‘Grumpy Goat Wines’ to act as an agent for all the wines he discovers on his travels with no UK representation.

Instead of dismissing the conversation I have thought further on this, and particularly wondered why business is always done how it is. For the uninitiated wines are imported for retail in two ways in general.

1. A producer agrees terms with an agent/distributor for them to act on their behalf in the UK. That agent then buys those wines, ships them and aims to sell them on to retailers whilst taking a % on top themselves to produce their profit. The % profit they make varies from agent to agent but can be up to at least 30% (if not more). For the producer this gives them access to the UK market, but a lack of control over their wines in it. It also affects their profitability in that a wine can only sell for it’s target price point – try and sell too expensively and it won’t sell. So the agents cut comes out of the producers profit rather than being an addition on top (there are exceptions to this of course because some wines will sell at whatever price, so there is room to add costs to the wine and not reduce profit). Because of the competitive nature of the UK market it can therefore be pretty difficult for a producers to generate any kind of profit  in our market and a number of producers do opt out of the UK for this reason.

For a producer this also supposes that they can find an agent willing to represent them and who is suitable too. The wrong match may not be a disaster (although it could come close to it) but it won’t be the harmonious relationship that both parties want.

2. The other method is to simply offer wines on an ex-cellar basis (or FOB) and sell them based either on reputation or work in the UK to sell the wines at tastings, from press reports and so on. This does mean that the profit is entirely at the mercy of the producer, it also means that they have control over who the wines are sold to (retailers / wholesalers not end consumers!) but it has the massive disadvantage that a retailer, restaurant or wholesaler has to buy wine in volume in order to make the shipping cost effective and worthwhile.

There are a few people who do things a little differently though. Felton Road for instance keep their UK wines under bond and offer out their whole range under allocation. Buyers can choose to take all or part of their allocation and the wines are shipped to them on arrival in the UK. This is all managed from a one person UK office (Cornish Point Wines) run by Nicola Greening (who happens to be the owners daughter).

First Drop wines from Barossa keep the family feel going with UK distribution run by Matt Gant’s dad John. Their model was to offer their wines to a ‘Dirty Dozen’ specialist retailers who would each commit to buying a pallet of wine at a time. Unfortunately buying a full pallet of premium wine from Australia is beyond most independent retailers in one hit and they have now relaxed the rules a little bit and as a result have 11 retailers selling their wines.

When Mullineux first came to the UK they rejected the idea of appointing an agent and instead brought some wine to the UK, stored it in bond and then worked hard as a business to promote and sell those wines in the UK. The issue with that is of course that this requires significant time and investment in a single market to achieve anything worthwhile.

Taking these examples I think there is another way to do this – and to give it a name – I’m calling it ‘The Goat Collective’. I’m not going hard and fast on rules on this – I’m suggesting some ways it could work – and in some instances have suggested a number of options available.

The Goat Collective

Essentially the way I can see this working is a similar way in which the buying groups operate in the UK, the difference being that instead of buying they are selling. Member producers of the collective ship wine to the UK and hold it under bond in the collective bonded warehouse account. Retailers and wholesalers can then buy wines from any or all members of the collective  through a single UK based point of contact. The stock for each supplier remains their property at all times until transfer to the customer is made and never does it become the property of The Goat Collective.

Choice estates from around the world would be able to join the collective, however after an initial setting up period new additions to the collective would have to gain the approval of the majority of existing members with the exception that an existing member can, should there be a real issue of competition, request that the application is rejected outright for competitive reasons.

There is a choice then how the UK end of the Collective works – either all members can pay a fee that provides for a UK office, and a salaried worker to run sales, marketing and administration for the collective or it can be run on a commission basis based on ALL sales in the UK.  The UK worker would also need to be available to attend trade and consumer events in consultation with individual members. So for instance if a producer wanted to attend a particular generic tasting event they would be responsible for payment for the stand and manning it. However because the cost of flying to UK is expensive it is anticipated that the UK office would be able to provide a resource for attending events on a buy in, flat rate, day rate. (IE you want cover at X tasting, you know it will cost you £x to have cover). If several producers wish to be represented at a particular event then the cost is split equally.

Distribution costs from bond to customer are born pro rate across each delivery from the collective whilst customers pay direct to The Collective as a whole. As soon as the money hits the bank account, outstanding fees for storage and distribution are taken, commission paid and remaining funds are then offered to each member who can choose to take the money or leave it in the UK for future marketing purposes.

I would anticipate that a condition of membership of the collective would be to agree to a set trade programme of tastings that all members could attend. These would tend to be things like SITT, Independents Day, Dirty Dozen or the like and non country specific events and that members would all contribute to this.

There are obviously LOTS of details you’d need to work out, such as branding and marketing budgets, administration fees and so on, % commission etc. But the basis of this is to provide a mechanism for wineries to sell their wines in the UK in a cost effective way, with the benefit of many of the advantages of a traditional agent but with flexibility, control and increased profit brought by remaining independent. It allows them to share some of the costs involved in marketing wines in the UK and means that they don’t have to do everything if they want to be  present in the UK market.

Retaining ownership of the wines reduces the UK office cost (which I would put as being one person working from home initially) and means that the producer can ensure whichever wines they would like to be present in the market are available in the market – and by putting the UK manager on a commission basis they know that they will have to work to promote and sell the wines.

Obviously I haven’t worked out the financials or the viability but I think it could work and would allow some of the most individual boutique producers the chance to sell in the UK.

I could delve deeper into the workings but I hope this bare bones gives you a taste. It is possible someone works like this already – I haven’t seen it – I have seen some work together for marketing purposes (PIWOSA, First Families of Australia, The Outsiders) but not for sales as well – and not from different countries. It’s an interesting idea I think.

 

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Rioja Report

I visited Rioja last year, and having looked through my notes had a lot of things to write down in a legible format – this comes from that. I’m not saying it’s definitive (it isn’t) I’m not saying anything about it in fact – except here it is – and take from it what you will.

Things to bear in mind are that not all the wines tasted were tasted under the same circumstances, and there is every possibility that a wine that showed badly on the tasting was just showing badly.

Have a look and feel free to comment.

View it HERE

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Casas del Bosque – Chile

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For the final part of our Chilean adventure we’re staying in Casablanca and going to Casas del Bosque. This was not an estate I knew very much about when I travelled over there – but over the past 12 months of so it has really started to come to prominence. Whether this is the growing influence of Kiwi winemaker Grant Phelps or the work in the UK by importer ABS I’m not sure.

As well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the calling card wines for Casas, which is perhaps not suprising given they have a Kiwi winemaker – but perhaps the most interesting bit for me what their plantings of Syrah. This is the variety that I think – once there are vines with some decent age – could have potential to produce some excellent wines in many places in Chile. I’m not sure it will have the commercial success that planting Pinot Noir, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon would have but it’s the thing most likely to attract us wine geeks.

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As you might expect for a winery based in Casablanca the wines from Casablanca grapes are more interesting than the reds (Cabernet and Carmenere) that are grown in Maipo – it’s interesting that their top wine on show was a Cabernet and yet – for me – this is the variety that they achieve less with. I also wonder about having an ‘Icon’ wine – that is the flagbearer – for the estate not from their home region. I don’t think it conveys pride and belief in what they are doing in Casablanca – which is a shame because I think the wines here are genuinely interesting and have real potential to excel.

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Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Textural and fresh. Lightly aromatic but with a nice level of concentration in the fruit. Quite well made.

Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Really concentrated, lovely textural style – ripe fruit but with relatively toned down aromatics. Lovely mouthfeel and with a long finish.

Pequenas Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Real concentration of fruit, lots of lovely texture and mouthfeel. Really fresh fruit and aromatic interest. Very good.

Reserva Chardonnay 2012

Quite textural and concentrated the fruit is bright with good acidity however the oak is a little dominant. Lots of lees character comes through on the finish.

Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2012

Long, concentrated and textural. Lots of fresh apple and citrus fruit. Quince and white peach. Lovely finish.

Reserva Pinot Noir 2012

Soft approachable Pinot, lovely fresh style. Very easy drinking indeed and good value.

Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2012

Soft red cherry, spicy notes. Fruit driven and pretty easy to drink. Soft open texture – alcohol a little warm. Quite immediately appealing though.

Pequenas Pinot Noir 2012

Quite structural but with vibrant cherry fruit. Some concentration and spice. Complex and multi-layered there is plenty of interest in this. Lovely mouthfeel. Very drinkable.

Gran Reserva Syrah 2011

Very fresh fruited, lots of lavender, blueberry and some herbal notes. Mouthfilling style with good length and concentration.

Pequenas Syrah 2012

Opaque colour, really  black fruit hints of black olive and marzipan. Lots of bright fruit this is full bodied and intense. Mouthfilling and long on the finish with firm slightly chalky tannins.

Carmenere Reserva 2012

Spicy and soft – some aromatics. Lots of ripe berry fruit and black pepper. A little hot on the finish.

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2012

Decent fruit with chunky tannins. Full fruited and jammy.

Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Clean, mouthfilling and pure fruit.  Lots of blackcurrant with layers of mint, rosemary and thyme. Good length.

Gran Bosque 2011

Fragrant  and perfumed – the tannins are lovely on this. Long in the mouth and aromatic with lots of length.

 

 

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Vinos Emiliana – Chile

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Emiliana are a reasonably large producer who are based in Colchagua, however for our visit we went to their visitor centre in Casablanca – which is easily reached from Santiago in around an hour (traffic permitting!). The journey there takes in a number of tunnels that go under the coastal mountain range, and having set off early morning in temperatures already in the mid 20’s we were pretty pleased our guide had sent us back to our hotel rooms to get jumpers. Casablanca is known as one of Chile’s cool climate regions – and whilst I’ve experienced ‘cool climate’ zones in other countries that didn’t appear to be all that different (a degree or two) from warmer zones the difference here was really quite telling.

As we arrived there was still a fair amount of mist about, and where there was sun it was quite warm- but the minute you stood in the shade the temperature dropped significantly to a goose bump level.

Emiliana was originally founded by the owners of Concha Y Toro (who remain on the boards of both companies) but unlike Cono Sur, Trivento of Argentina and California’s Fetzer it remains a completely separate entity. It is also one of the worlds largest organic wine producers – perhaps only rivalled by Fetzer.

All around the vineyards you can see evidence of their sustainable approach, between rows of vines there are loads of wild flowers growing, there are chickens running freely around the vines too with a mobile chicken coop to ensure they feed and manure the entire vineyard area equally. In Casablanca at least there are small allotments where the vineyard workers are trained in organic and biodynamic practices.  Other animals such as llamas are kept onsite for manure whilst the biodynamic preparations are made from plants grown on the estate.

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All wines produced are at least organic, whilst their two top wines, Coyam and Ge are biodynamic. Of course some biodynamic grapes go into other wines. The tasting itself was a little hurried in order to get to our next visit for lunch, so my notes are pretty brief. That said I chose to list quite a number of wines from Emiliana on my return on the basis that alongside Ventisquero these were wines and an estate that I particularly liked.

The Adobe range is Emiliana’s entry level.

Adobe Chardonnay 2013

Quite nicely fruity, touch of spritz, a touch of oak a little ozone type flavour too. 5% Sauvignon in the blend adds some freshness. Not bad at all.

Adobe Gewurztraminer 2013

Quite fresh and pure, lightly aromatic but I find it’s gone rather soapy and clumsy on the finish.

Adobe Malbec 2011

Soft, fresh brambly fruit. Maybe lacks a little intensity but for the money very good value.

Novas Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Quite fresh, some tropical fruit. Mineral and gooseberry notes. Quite focussed and long. Reasonable texture. Good.

Novas Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Really lovely aromas, leafy with blackcurrant fruit. Full bodied with big slightly chalky tannins this is lovely and really quite complex, fragrant and perfumed. This floats my boat. Lovely.

Novas Garnacha Syrah 2012

Soft, supple and fresh. Concentrated but light with red berry fruits. It’s an attractive wine, if not particularly obvious. Violets and fresh redcurrant fruit, the finish is complex and long. Delightful if a bit understated.

Signos de Origen Chardonnay, Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier 2012

Wow, love this! Fresh citrus and peach fruit. Mouthfilling texture and then apricot flavours following through. Long on the finish, this is really complex and interesting. One of the most interesting whites I’ve tried.

Signos de Origen Pinot Noir 2012

Quite a reduced nose, lightly fruity but I think for the money I’d want it to do a bit more.

Signos de Origen Carmenere 2010

Quite ripe, firm chalky tannins lovely aromatic violet notes. Plump fruit and leafy character. Concentrated but fresh. Very good.

Signos de Origen Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Lovely dark, deep Cabernet, fresh acidity and intense fresh blackcurrant. Firm dry tannins, some green bell pepper and violet notes. Long finish.

Coyam 2011

38%Syrah, 31% Carmenere, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Malbec

Lovely depth and concentration. Pure broad and ripe. Really complex and nicely made. Dark berry fruits, spice, black pepper, tobacco and cedar, firm but silky tannins. Very good.

Ge 2012

48%Carmenere, 38% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon

Really deeply coloured, ripe blackberry fruit with plums and dark chocolate. Sweet spice and black pepper. The firm structure is nicely integrated.

Emiliana Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Really clever winemaking adding in 15% Gewurztraminer which gives is lots of really pretty perfumed fragrance. Honey, floral notes mouthfilling  and concentrated. The acidity is all there and finish is long. Really quite smart.

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Odfjell – Chile

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Odfjell is a project undertaken by Dan Odfjell who is a Norwegian shipping magnate, whilst his son, Laurence is an architect who designed Odfjell’s winery and visitor centre. It’s an impressive place dug into the hillside so that 60% of it is underground. This means that it can be gravity led, which allows for gentler handling of the grapes but also is very well insulated allowing it to maintain a low and constant temperature without the need for active cooling technology and the unnecessary use of energy that this uses.

In the vineyards too, Oddfjell are aiming to be more at one with nature, 100% of their vineyards are organic while they are currently in conversion to biodynamic practices. Fjord horses have been brought over from Norway to work the land and produce manure which is used on the vineyards.

Odfjell are not just talking the sustainable talk and doing the bits you might look for though to be trendy or appear to be caring. There is real belief in the team that healthier vineyards make better wine, but that the environment really needs looking after. A walk through the vineyard in summer was both interesting to investigate their nature islands and corridors but also was one of those occasions where you needed to keep your mouth shut because of all the bugs!

Odfjell have chosen to work closely with old vine Carignan as one of their stars along with a number of other producers in an effort to show the quality that can be achieved when the grape is allowed to shine.

Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Bright fresh blackcurrant fruit, some slightlyy aggressive tannin and overt sweeteness. Slightly bitter on the finish. Not unpleasant.

Odfjell Armador Merlot 2010

Soft plummy fruit, some freshness and texture. Reasonable length but (as I tend to find Merlot so no slight on the producer here) a little bit dull.

Odfjell Armador Syrah 2009

Fresh fruited, quite elegant. Some slightly smoky aromas. Lively acidity, some floral violet notes. Quite appealing.

Los Espinos Carignan 2012

Bright with really good freshness. Red berry and floral notes – quite concentrated and elegant. Pretty good length and texture.

Odfjell Capitulo 2010

45% Carignan, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Malbec, 6% Carmenere. Rich and developing on the nose with  lots of violet and dark berry fruits. Fresh and perfumed this is quite perfumed with chalky tannins and a nice fresh finish.

Odfjell Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Pure fruited, ripe and textural Cabernet with lovely focus and elegance. Nicely made with good length it is a little hollow in the mid palate.

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2011

Dark purple with a nice violet scented nose. Fresh morello cherry and blueberries on the palate. Good acidity and firm, slightly chunky chalky textured tannins.

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Odfjell Orzada Malbec 2011

Bright damson fruit, lots of rosemary and thyme with sweet floral notes. Big chalky tannins this is quite linear and clean in style with good length.

Odfjell Winemakers Travesy 2009

43% Malbec, 32% Carignan, 25% Syrah. Deep purple and with a rich developing nose. Lots of very ripe dark berry fruit and violet with some tobacco notes. Lovely fine tannins with good length and a dry finish.

Odfjell Aliara 2010

32& Carignan, 26% Malbec, 22% Syrah, 20% Cabernet. Really fresh fruit, pencil lead and blackcurrant leaf. Quite restrained and elegant but with really good intensity and a long but lovely dry finish.

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Ventisquero – Chile

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Ventisquero is quite a large producer of wines, but they fly somewhat under the radar in the UK thanks to their tactic of selling their entry level wines in the supermarkets under a completely different label – Yali. Yet despite their relative size they still have just one winery and own all of their own vineyards -nothing is bought in at all. This gives them huge advantages in that they have total control over all aspects of their production from planting through to shipping. In a country whose high quality wine production is perhaps still in its infancy to some degree this gives them massive flexibility and makes it far easier to try something a little different.

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The winery itself is located in the coastal area of the Maipo valley, not that far from Malpilla where Chocolan are situated but in a place where there is even less between them and the Pacific. In addition there are vineyards situated in Apalta where the grapes for some brilliant red wines, made in partnership with John Duval are made, Leyda, Rapel, Casablanca and another area of Colchagua.

Right from the off I was impressed by the wines, I didn’t really want to be and they were not at all what I expected – but the truth is that of all the wineries I visited this is the one that perhaps made me sit up and take note across the board the most. It started relatively well but not outstandingly and just built and built as we tasted through the wines.

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Ventisquero Classico Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Colchagua

Bright and crisp. Dry relatively light in flavour but clean and with pretty fragrance. Fresh on the finish. Not bad at all.

Ventisquero Classico Merlot 2013, Colchagua

Clean with lovely freshness, quite light in style again. My notes keep repeating the word fresh here – not just acidity fresh but the fruit has a freshness rather than an over ripe or cooked aroma. Quite good.

Ventisquero Reserva Pinot Grigio 2013, Rapel

Bright fresh and clean, a bit of citrus and a hint of floral. Some texture and interest. Quite drinkable and immediately appealing.

Ventisquero Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Maipo

Crisp acidity, very fresh fruit – ripe but not overblown. A touch short and sappy but pretty drinkable. Lacks maybe a bit of depth but this was served pretty cool – a good thing to do with Chilean wine.

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Ventisquero Grey Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda

Quite a reduced nose but with spicy crunchy fruit with good freshness. Amazingly the vines for this wine are still pretty young and this is a wine that is only going to get better in future vintages.

Ventisquero Grey Glacier Blend, Apalta

A blend of Garnacha, Carignan and Mourvedre. It has a lovely perfumed nose – fresh and fragrant with bright crisp fruit. It’s long and concentrated with good complexity. Now we’re talking!

Ventisquero Grey Syrah 2011, Apalta

A developing nose, spicy with rich fruit, good acidity and yet full bodied. This is long on the finish. It’s big but with perfume and complexity. It’s very well made wine at a really very decent price.

Ventisquero Heru Pinot Noir 2011, Casablanca

Crisp and fresh it’s youthful still. Pure and focussed on the nose it’s quite linear in style. Lovely crunchy red fruits, great freshness and a long finish.

Ventisquero Vertice 2009, Apalta

51% Carmenere, 49% Syrah from a single block in the Apalta vineyard and made in partnership with John Duval. Quite a beguiling nose, full bodied and vibrant with good texture this has firm fine grained tannins. It’s long in the mouth with freshness and concentration. It really has a great deal going for it. Likes this a lot.

Ventisquero Enclave 2010, Pirque – Maipo Alto

86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Carmenere, 2% Cabernet Franc. Quite fragrant and bright. It has good length and concentration. It’s tight and a little closed but with lovely tannin structure and depth. Personally I preferred the Vertice but it would be really interesting to see how this develops over time.

 

The three wines made in partnership with John Duval are Vertice, Enclave and the 100% Syrah Pangea which is made from a single block in the Apalta vineyard that we visited. Unfortunately we were not able to taste this on this occasion – I hope to get the opportunity to taste this sometime this year.

 

 

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