Tradeshows & Tastings Oh My

Millesime Bio 2015

Millesime Bio 2015

Another year, another round of trade shows, tastings, and winery visits in Europe.  This year’s trip was a quickie, as I had a ton of things to do in the US.  In addition, I was on the move almost every day, which made this one a very tiring visit to the Continent.

A day after landing in Paris and dropping my things at the rooftop apartment I rented in the 9th (south of Pigalle, a rapidly changing and evolving area locally known as So-Pi, and a few blocks from one of the so-called No Go Zones that Fox News ranted about), I hopped on the TGV to Montpellier for the annual Millesime Bio show.

Paris Sunset

Paris Sunset

If I may digress, let me just say how shameful it is that the US does not have a high-speed rail system like they do in Europe.  I used trains to get everywhere and it was a breeze.  You go from the center of one city to the center of another, no need for cars or planes.  I know we have large distances between our cities, and any high-speed system here would have to be well-planned (there you go, it’s doomed already), but for some parts of the country this would make sense.  And don’t even mention the Acela…  what a joke.

Vins de mes Amis

Vins de mes Amis

As usual, there were a ton of Offs, small shows that are more convivial (ie more about drinking than tasting) than the big show.  Small growers who can’t afford the big tent usually pour at these little offsite tastings, and they’re usually held in pretty cool sites (see pic above, at the Chateau de Flaugergues).  This year, I would actually argue there were too many Offs, as you couldn’t attend them all.  Worse, several were so far from the main show that without a car it was impossible to visit them.

But I had a list of people to visit, and so off I went, glass and notebook in hand, palate at the ready.  Three days of swirling, sniffing, tasting, spitting, barely taking any breaks except for business and nature calls.  I will say I was impressed with the quality of the wines I tasted, but I did vet them beforehand.  Best of all, several had been recommended to me by our current winemakers, which is always nice.  By the end of the 3rd day, I was ready for a rest, but no…  Christine Deleuze from Clos Bagatelle, our wonderful Saint Chinian, came by and dragged me out to dinner, where we tasted yet more samples that I’d had sent to her.  Out of about 20 bottles, there was exactly 1, yes, one, that I thought was good enough for our Portfolio.  In the meantime, Christine and her brother Luc send their love and say bonjour!

Christine & Luc

Christine & Luc

Very early the next morning, I had to scramble over the wall of my B&B as neither myself nor Christine had the keys to the gate and I had a train to catch.  Aaaah, the adventurous life of a wine importer…  Then it was off to Avignon, where our new Organic Cotes du Rhone and Cornas (!) producer met up with me (I’ll introduce all our new producers in separate posts, so don’t fret).  We visited Gigondas, and we tasted through their wines, all of which were gorgeous and reflected where they were from.  We didn’t have time to visit Cornas itself, but stayed in the Southern Rhône for the day.  Then it was back to Paris for 2 days.

Old Vine Grenache

Old Vine Grenache

After a 2 day break, it was time for the really geeky stuff, the Loire shows in and around Angers: La Levee de la Loire, la Renaissance, La Dive, Les Penitentes, Les Vins Demeter, le Salon de la Loire, and a few other small get-togethers.  These are usually held in absolutely stunning sites like the Greniers Saint Jean, a magnificent medieval building. Funky, dirty, natural, delicious, it’s all here for 4 days.

So true

So true

Not having shaved for a few days, I felt at home though I wasn’t wearing nearly enough plaid…  Happily though, the quality of the natural wines has improved, though there are still way too many producers making dirty/unstable wines.  Several of our producers were on hand, including Nicolas Lebrun, our Biodynamic/natural winemaker from L’Enclos des Braves in Gaillac, whose wines were lighting up the room.

Nicolas Lebrun lights up the room

Nicolas Lebrun lights up the room

After a dinner with Nicolas and a slew of other producers that we don’t import (but who were fun to hang out and drink with anyway), I stumbled back to the Levee de la Loire show the next day, where two more of our producers were pouring.  Laurent Herlin, a Biodynamic master of Cabernet Franc in Bourgueil, and quite the character…

Laurent Master of Cab Franc

Laurent Master of Cab Franc

…and Thierry Landry, our Organic Chinon winemaker (apparently I didn’t take a picture of him at the show)…

Thierry pruning

Thierry pruning

…and of course our Muscadet Master, Jean-Pascal Aubron, whose sharp white wines always wake up my palate (this is an older picture from his last trip to NYC).

Muscadet Park Ave

Muscadet Park Ave

There were also a few new discoveries, of course, and we’re negotiating with those to see if we can import them for 2015.  Crossing fingers, toes, nostrils, everything, as a few of them were absolutely killer.  Then it was off to Azay-le-Rideau to hang out with Pascal Pibaleau, our Biodynamic/natural winemaker there.

Pascal Pibaleau

Pascal Pibaleau

We tasted through yet more samples, finding some pretty interesting wines, I am happy to report.  The next morning Thierry Landry picked me up and we drove to his small estate outside of Chinon, a city I did not know and have vowed to revisit as it is absolutely gorgeous.

Chateau de Chinon

Chateau de Chinon

Thierry Lord of Chinon

Thierry Lord of Chinon

We wandered Thierry’s vineyards, full of old-vine Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and I watched him do some pruning as it was a gorgeous day.  We tasted his lineup of wines, and I am happy to report that his whites are just as gorgeous as his reds.  Look for his Chenin Blanc Sec soon…

Vieilles Vignes

Vieilles Vignes

Now that the shows were pretty much over, I headed back to Paris, but what to do now?  What else?  Day trips via train to some new wineries, of course, and more tastings!  So off I went to Chablis to meet our newest producer, who also happens to have some ungrafted centenary vines of Petit Chablis (hear that?  That’s the sound of unicorns singing while angels dance on rainbows, ie very rare).

Ungrafted Centenary Vines

Ungrafted Centenary Vines

The wines are lovely and I can’t wait for them to arrive.  I also did a day trip to Macon to visit our newest winemaker there, who is crafting gorgeous Macons and Pouilly Fuissés from some terrific holdings, many in the shadow of the Roche de Solutré .

The Roche looms...

The Roche looms…

Then it was off to Champagne, Epernay specifically, to meet one of the oldest Organic Champagne houses.  The head of the house happens to be a widow, something that seems common in the area (seriously, what is up with that region, really?).  Gorgeously made bubblies, not too much dosage, coming soon to a store/restaurant near you.

Alive!

Alive!

Her vineyards are full of life, as you can see in the pic above.  In the middle, her lands, to the right, conventionally-treated soils.  Which one looks more like Nature to you?

Overall this was a whirlwind but successful trip.  In between all the travels there were tons of good meals and great wines.  I am happy to report that the Paris food and wine scene is humming and vibrant, especially when it comes to small wine bars.  Most importantly, I hunted down a ton of new wineries (we’re adding 8 so far, and negotiating with a bunch of others as well), something essential to remaining dynamic and relevant.

There’s literally a boatload of wine arriving soon, so as they say, stay thirsty my friends…

Cheers!

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