Vinisud came, Vinisud went. Amazing, after months of preparation, calls, emails, prayers and sacrifices to the gods of business, three days went by in a flash. Many people were met, many wines were tasted (and drunk! and spit!), and many deals were made with a handshake.
So what's it like to attend something like this? Well, it's an exercise in patience and restraint, for one thing. Unsurprisingly, the show is a veritable laundry list of French organizational skills (or lack thereof). Halls are numbered seemingly willy-nilly, there are no public maps available unless you want to buy one for 30€, directional signs are on the floors, not the walls so you have no idea where you're headed until you get to the exit of your hall (surprise! you should have been going the other way!), you better not be thirsty cause there ain't no water around here but wow do we have some wine for you monsieur, oh man those bathrooms are scary, hey where's my winery what do you mean you don't know well then you should buy the guide for 30€, ouch my knees/legs/feet/back hurt I'd love to sit oh wait no seats available, and oh yeah the food is all the way on the other side of the space and the line stretches halfway to Marseille and it costs 30€.
It was all starting to feel somewhat surreal, though by the second day I had my (woozy) bearings. But hey, we got tons of free wine and swag, right? Nope. Well, not the swag part. We did get to try lots and lots of wine, most of it undrinkable. You feel bad for some of these winemakers who just have no clue, offering their wines to you like children to be blessed by the Pope. Those spitoons were overflowing...
I did get to taste the 2007 Chateauneuf du Papes, and while really, really young, they were quite superb, just juicy without being too ripe and with that classic acidity and freshness that I love. That tasting was another exercise in restraint, as buyers from various cultures elbowed, shoved and did everything but stab each other to get close to the wines. Yes, let's beat each other over the head so we can paint our teeth another shade of black. Oh, did I mention, wine-tasting at this level leaves your mouth looking like you've been licking and biting into asphalt? Smile!
Seriously, it's a lot of hard work. Yes, you're in the South of France in February, but you're in huge halls that are usually over-heated, drinking tons of swill with the occasional star, and you are on your feet all day. Then you go to dinner late, discuss business, drink and eat until all hours of the night, and wake up to taste some more. Talk about palate fatigue!
Still, many positive things occurred, the most important of which is I saw my winemakers, who are doing some great work at great prices in my not-so-unbiased opinion.
I caught up with my Cahors producer, Chateau de Gaudou, whose wines keep reminding me why I got into this business in the first place.
I also saw Mari and Rodolphe de Pins, of Chateau de Montfaucon, a lovely couple making amazing, and I do mean amazing, wines right next to the Rhone Valley, a few miles from the storied towns of Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape. For the geeks out there, he co-ferments(!) his red Les Gardettes, resulting in a really complex and delicious Vin de Pays de Gard. How cool is that???
Next to them was Jean-Marie Popelin, from Chateau Haut-Musiel. He's only a few miles from the ancient Pont de Gard, a Roman aqueduct, and his wines always bring a smile to my face. Racy and juicy, they are great examples of well-made Rhones with finesse and elegance as opposed to the brute power you see usually.
Yeah, I know, I am only slightly biased when it comes to my winemakers, but I wouldn't represent them if I couldn't drink them. Best of all, they all offer really great QPRs (Quality-to-Price Ratios). Happily, I'm in talks to get them into several major markets, so I'm crossing fingers, toes, and anything else I can find. Much work remains to be done though!