Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Corbières Death March

You know, everyone thinks that this is a dream job. After all, you get to travel to some of the most beautiful parts of the world, meet people who are really passionate about what they do, eat good food and, let’s face it, drink lots of free wine. What could be bad?

Well, there was a reason for calling this trip the Corbières Death March.

Nighttime Tasting

Imagine: wake up at the crack of dawn every day with barely 4 hours of sleep, throw your clothes into the bags you just unpacked the night before with only one eye open, your head pounding and your mouth dry, have just enough time to sip an over-roasted cup of coffee, inhale a mini-croissant, then hop in a minivan with 15 other bewildered souls for a bumpy ride through a sun-baked landscape to a morning tasting of 20+ producers, each with at least 4 and sometimes more young, brutally tannic wines, usually in an un-air-conditioned room, jump on the bus for a dizzying ride to a lunch spot where 8+ winemakers are waiting for you with their 4+ wines, listen as they all pontificate about their wares, smile and nod your head as if you heard every single word, now hurry, get back on the bus, go to yet another tasting of 20+ wineries and their abusingly tannic wines, try not to spit into the water bucket and oops did you get some red wine on your white shirt oh damn who cares, and why the Hell are you wearing a white shirt when you thought you’d put on a black one, head to a new hotel, unpack the bags, go to dinner with, oh, look, surprise, another 6-8 producers and their bottles looking like multiple rocket launchers aimed at you, feign consciousness just long enough to stuff a few bites into your mouth as bottles are tossed back and forth, stagger to the minivan while your driver, Ives, extols everyone to keep up morale as he bears down on you with a box of leftover samples the winemakers have given him to take back to the hotel, oh yay, more wine, but of course you’re a professional alcoholic, so you sit outside the hotel until the wee hours of the night passing the bottles back and forth and discussing the day’s events, and when you smile no one can see it because your teeth are blacker than the night, then look at your watch and realize that in about 4 hours you’re repeating the whole thing. Then do it for a week straight.

Thus, the Corbières Death March.


That said, there were many high points. The places where many of the tastings were held were usually quite beautiful: a deconsecrated church in Narbonne, the Abbaye de Fontfroide (a stunning abbey which looked surprisingly like the Cloisters in NYC, hidden deep within a valley), a meal in a Medieval town’s main square, across from its ancient church, lunch at the base of the Pic St Loup mountain at l’Auberge du Cèdre outside Montpellier, dinner at the edge of a lagoon near the Mediterranean, the medieval town of Pézenas and its cobblestoned streets, lunch with delicious Picpoul on Domaine Félines Jourdan’s roof surrounded by a sea of vines while the Mistral blows through what’s left of my hair, and a paella dinner at Domaine Condamine Bertrand’s gorgeous estate with the winemaker and his family.

In addition, the wines were pretty good overall, reflecting both the passion of the winemakers and the spread of new winemaking methods. There were some happy discoveries as well, as I’d only vaguely heard of the Picpoul de Pinet grape and the lovely, light tart white wine it makes on the coastline near the border of Spain. Drinking this while eating a heaping platter of shellfish on the edge a lagoon near the Mediterranean Sea was one of the highlights of our trip. And of course, the people, both the winemakers and the other buyers, were great to meet.

Wines can be well-made and delicious, food can be well-executed, but it’s the people you interact with that seal the deal. And this is one of the main reasons I’m in the wine business. Sure, there are some sleazy characters (what industry doesn’t have any?), but overall most folks get into this for the love of the grape and the environment that surrounds it.

So did I find any wines to represent in the US?

Unlike my last trip to the Rhône, where several wineries impressed me so much that I offered to take them on right away, I was a bit more hesitant this time. Yes, the wines were quite good, but the prices were also rather high. Add to that the crushing exchange rate, and the list of possible candidates began to narrow rapidly. Many producers asked for my honest thoughts, and I had to tell several of them not to target the US market right now because they were too expensive. But I did ask a few wineries to send me some samples to my office in New York, so we will see. The Languedoc is known as the Rhône’s little brother and for inexpensive wines, and it will take some time to change that mindset.

But the efforts of these dedicated, passionate winemakers are the first steps in that direction.

Pictures can be found here, and as usual, no need to sign in, just click on the picture to start the slideshow.


1 comment:

Cybele said...

Amazing sunny pictures! I so miss the sun! Where was it during all summer? Beautiful landscapes, but what to say, it is France!
PS : the white shirt is not too bad!!