Monday, December 10, 2007


My recent trip to the Salon des Vignerons Independants was an eye-opener in many, many ways. Interesting on one level to experience the social-politico divide in France, but more importantly as a glimpse into who will survive in 2008. It is not news to anyone that the dollar is tanking, with a long way left to fall. Once the 1.50 barrier is crossed, there really is absolutely nothing to stop it before we are at 1.60 or even a number I have heard bandied about: €1=$1.75! When that happens, I predict that there will be a serious readjustment, if not a rude awakening in the market.

It's going to be more than difficult for those name-brand "national importers" to get away with with what they've been getting away with for so many years. What may have been the 'best' in the past is at the very least no longer the best deal. Maybe that's the kind of game you can play with a $1.20 Euro but those days are over. Don't get me wrong, I prefer to have durable relationships with my suppliers, but when they raise the prices excessively, reduce allocations, and produce wines that are inferior and overpriced compared to the new guy down the street who has something to prove - well it's hard to be too sentimental under such conditions. European producers have understood that they need to compete on several levels, not just one, and that they are competing against the whole world now.
The scene is a lot more fluid nowadays and things move a lot faster. It is simply no longer sufficient in the wine business to rest on your laurels, because those laurels are changing hands yearly. Every year or so it seems old and inflexible growers are dying off and being replaced by young people who literally revitalize the domaines - some of France's biggest star vignerons and vigneronnes are only in their 20s. In other cases the kids, uninterested, are happy to sell to outsiders who often bring new ideas and an obsession with quality to bear on production.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Salon de Paris

Braved the latest and possibly last public transit strikes to attend the Salon des Vignerons Independants de France (ex Caves Particulieres), a show I'd not attended for some years. Relations were strengthened, and discoveries were made. It was nice being back in France, apres tout. Having 1200 growers from all corners of France under one roof including some of the biggest names is instructive to say the least. You can really get a good idea of vintages (2006s are better than expected) but more importantly a better idea of value when you can compare the pricing on the spot. Attendance on Thursday and Friday was way down from previous years due to the transport strikes so it was easier to keep moving and sample the maximum of wines than it would have been. It was nice to see that there are still plenty of surprises and discoveries to be made out there. The atmosphere is quite different from professionals only trade shows. It's a lot more crowded and especially on the weekends large numbers of 'tasters' get their money's worth. Invitations are sent in huge numbers by the growers to those on their mailing lists but even if you don't have an invitation it's only 6€ to get in and get the glass that enables you to consume vast quantities of Champagnes, still wines, and brandies. One of the days I rode the Metro almost the whole way with a group of 5 Italian guys who all had invitations. I saw them again numerous times inside the fair over the course of the day, and it was pretty obvious what they were there to do. While spit buckets (crachoirs) are provided, they were rarely used. The big plus with a non-professional show though is that you can just thrust your glass forward and point at the bottle and say 'some of that please," and just keep moving if it's a no, without having to give your life story. Just smile and say "Merci" as you leave.

A couple of days I tasted with one of America's leading retailers and we both remarked the persistence of a phenomenon that we call the Qvée which is Cuvée with a thick Jersey accent. In the 90s I worked for a Broker out of France who even then lamented these over-ripe, over-extracted, over-oaked creature wines that many growers insist on making against all reason.
Once I asked him if he wanted samples of some grower's Qvée and his response was as economical as it was unequivocal: "F*ck Qvées - they're bullsh*t." Anyway, my colleague and I had a laugh over the story, and found that those words are every bit as relevant today. What makes French wines so great is the diversity, right? Anyway, these stupid wines - already expensive - are now ridiculously so and cannot out-Australia Australia in any event.

It was very interesting to taste a number of wines that are traded by 'national' importers (I have another name for them but I am trying to be polite). Ample proofs that the wine scene is one that is constantly evolving, and what may have been the best 5-15 years ago isn't necessarily still the best... more on that in a later rant.

Serious teeth staining after a long day (10-7) of Salon-ing! The good news is that it does come off!