"Continuing the Days in the Glamorous Life of the Importer..." by Kevin Mckenna
by Kevin McKenna.
Those of you who know me know that I don't like griping in public too much, let alone putting it down in writing and publishing it on our company blog. So the mere fact that I'm writing this is evidence that something (or some things) must really be bugging me... Let's call them a series of incidents, coincidences, etc. that have made me think a lot about what I (and by that I also mean 'we' at Louis/Dressner) do as a wine importer, what it used to mean, what it means now, what it continues to mean to me (us) and how these values seem to be irreversibly changing in the current context of specialized wine importation.
When I started working solely in the commerce of wine and finding bliss in a tireless interest for good wine and learning more and more, the wine "industry" was called the wine trade. It was full of people who were doing it as a job, but it was really as a vocation. Most were barely making a living. They were well-educated, had good manners and, for the majority, were eloquent or at least well spoken. They were individuals. There were only a few quality independent importers and the press had little influence on wineries or their winemaking. People trusted their local wine merchant, (of which there were relatively few quality stores).
So before I go on, let me say that I am not an old-skooler ruminating on the past and bemoaning the present, (about which, in fact, there is a whole lot to like!) But it seems to me there was an approach back then among the folks doing innovative importation to do one's work based on real research, with a personal point of view, finding a deeper understanding of the work involved in making a bottle of wine; this meant having an approach, or at least a basic thought, of what your imported wines represented vis-a-vis everything else out there. And most importantly, in the context of this writing, there was with little exception, a respect for other people's work, which meant putting in real efforts to not step on each other's toes. The wine trade played by Marquess of Queensbury rules, if you will. Because, after all, the British practically invented the commerce of wine.
And sure, maybe I idealize the past or perhaps was a bit wide-eyed and naïve. Or perhaps I was not in a position to see the uglier side of things, which I am sure existed. But I still believe that for the most part, there was guiding principle to work with integrity, manners and mutual respect (unless the other guy/gal was really a bastard or, importantly in those days and still important, a serial substance abuser.) You paid your growers and if you did not, you would have a Scarlet W, for W-E-L-S-H-E-R tattooed on your forehead.
Apart from the miracle of The Cloud, there is a downside to the internet. The rise of internet "journalism" and social media marketing allows for any creep to say anything they want (hey, look at me here) without any accountability for their words, mistakes, innuendo or near libel. And furthermore, there is an almost built-in incentive to be as exploitative of the lack of rules as possible to rise above the sea of self-involved open diaries posing as constructive critical thinking.
So here is what has passed over our desks in recent weeks:
Firstly, someone who has recently established his own business based on the idea that he's eliminating the outrageous importer and distributor mark-ups by buying directly from winemakers' cellars and selling retail, by power of his mutant abilities, directly to the consumer -thus somehow getting them "Better for Less", a motto I think was popularly chiseled in Latin on a stone in 1st century AD- recently offered a wine from Olga Raffault, a producer we have been working with for 22 years. This same "selector" professes undying fondness for our company, for us as people, for our work, for our winemakers and their work, etc. on each and every occasion we see him. His newsletter to private wine customers made an offering on an Olga Raffault bottling "La Singulaire"
We received calls from customers and colleagues who were understandably confused. The news perpetuated itself and people immediately started jumping to further conclusions, like Raffault was now working with another importer. You can see how this then goes on and on in a never ending cycle.
Here are the points of that email we would like to categorically shoot down and further illuminate:
This "selector" all but states that the reason we have left the wine for European clients and carelessly deprived the US Market of this, THE most amazing cuvée of the cellar, is that we have deemed the price too high to pass through the 3-tier system. Uhmmm, what can I say? Relative to the cuvées we bring from other producers, this wine is not even CLOSE to being too expensive. I can't give him the benefit of thinking that folks could read between the lines of his statement and see that perhaps we did not see that the price:quality ratio represented in the wine's price. That would negate the entire point of his email.
The reason we don't bring this in is simple; this is a tiny cuvée that Eric de la Vigerie, who took over from his father-in-law Jean Raffault in the 00's, makes for a niche French clientele who are in fact searching for the more modern, extracted and oaked versions of Chinon found in some of the bigger, venerated commercial estates in the region. We were certainly always aware of this cuvée, and have tasted it every year with the same wan smiles. It's just not for us or for our clients. It's concentrated, marked by oak treatment and has little Chinon identity. Eric never cared much whether we liked it or not, bought it or not. He knows how well we do with the other wines in his cellar, all of which are much more important to sell.
The gall in this is the man who shall be further known as Selector L, the man who professes to know us for years, would think that in the 22 years of importing Raffault we would not buy their BEST EVER Chinon. And that in all the years of LDM's work, all our intelligent distributors, hardworking retailers and conscious restauranteurs who have helped back the reputation of the estate and have tasted with Eric many times wouldn't ask for it if they wanted it.
Furthermore, the wine is not a direct purchase from the domaine's cellar. We are assured by the Raffault that it was not sold directly to Selector L's company, meaning he must have bought it from one of their other distributors or retailers in Europe. I think that counts as a "tier"...
One also has to ask, would this wine be offered by Selector L if it did not have the imprimatur of the Raffault estate and their wonderful reputation based on releases of excellent old cellared wines? And what about our company spending over 20 years getting the word out with so much expense and heart? It would seems the sale of "La Singulière" is pretty much a no-brainer relative to some unheard-of producer in Chinon like, for example, the imaginary Bertrand Onager's imaginary top level cuvée "Les Portes du Bain" which no one would realistically ever compare to Clos Rougeard's Saumur wines or Bernard Baudry's Chinon Croix Boissée.
And alright, alright, he is just some schmo, albeit one who garnered a reputation in New York for an expressive, investigative palate which he could manage to elucidate well in written form, and which was followed with some avidity by the mysterious wine cognoscenti underground. He is just trying to make a business he can call his own and we really do not see him as a threat or feel his sale of a small quantity of this wine is going to hurt ours or Raffault's sales or reputations. On the other hand, I certainly do not feel it is going to bring a whole new set of customers either.
One just wishes that the sale of the wine, and the structure and wording of the written sale offering weren't both built on the foundation that Louis/Dressner and Raffault have made. I hope some day he can find the confidence to start laying his own bricks. I also wished he had had the general professional courtesy to call/email/text us to inform us of his intended sale of a wine from one of our most high-profile producers. He should also have given full disclosure that the wine was not acquired directly from that producer to his mailing list. And it would also be all right if this were the first time that pejorative comparisons and ever-so-slight mudslinging were used as a tool to hawk the latest selection, but it isn't. We kept our mouths shut and took the high road the first few times, but now I feel a need to address this.
Moving on, I felt impelled to say something when I received an email from Monte dall'Ora in the Veneto, who we have worked with for the last seven years. Prior to our partnership, they sold mostly a special cuvée to the importer who worked with them before us: the style was more extracted, higher alcohol and it spent some time in (partially new) wood. Needless to say, it was not among our favorite wines at the estate. Well-made but modern-ish. We much preferred the racier, fresher and elegant wines that seemed to be evident vintage after vintage. Eventually, the production of this cuvée was ended.
Around the same time as Monte Dall' Ora's email, we got another email announcing that a famed "newsletter retailer" had just bought old bottles of Monte dall'Ora in the previous importer's warehouse, all that was available there to sell as his latest offering. The retailer is based in Seattle and ships to at least the 16 reciprocal state that allow sales across their borders, if not more. Their subscriptions reach a good number of people and I believe their business is good, if not brisk.
But the thing that caught my eye was the name of a certain person listed with the title of Buying Director of Italian Wines for said retailer. Turns out, this Wine Director had disappeared for a number of years from the wine trade and had reportedly moved on to another field, was once a maverick Italian importer who worked with about 5 Italian estates we now represent (not Monte dall'Ora though) More importantly, from what I last heard from these same growers, this guy burned each of them and owes them A LOT of money. I've noticed in the past that to most people working with wine, this is a "so what" moment and they are happy to buy wines that "fell off a truck" at a bargain price, never once asking themselves if the winemaker was paid. I think that too often, when there is an unclear ethics situation, people avoid thinking about said ethics or go into a state of denial. For me it's a craw-sticker: I am friends with the growers that lost that money (a situation that happens much too often, especially for Italian wine) and I know what personal, financial and emotional upset they went through. Some had resolved to not sell to the US ever again. We were lucky to be able to convince them to let us bring in the wines on very short terms.
I think in business we have to have some sense of right and wrong and draw the line somewhere. I will have real trouble doing any business with this Seattle based retailer unless his Buying Director of Italian Wines is no longer there or makes some reparations to the growers he stiffed... I am not requiring the Scarlet W. but don't tempt me!
The next incident, two weeks ago, really put us in a difficult place. In February at the hipster Natural Wine fairs in and around Angers (Dive Bouteile, etc...), there were many little wilding packs of New Selectors (Selecteurs Nouveaux?) and their coterie of customers. One of these guys avoided eye contact with me because, at a wine fair this past November in Italy, I had threatened to take him outside after calling him out as a brazen liar and a hack. This California based "selector" was targeting producers we have, through our own work and reputation, successfully established in the US market. His schtick involved (involves?) telling the growers the wines could not be found in the Bay Area and Southern California through our distributor -which in a vast majority of cases is a blatant lie- and that they should work with him.
When I confronted him in person, the guy denied he even knew whom we worked with. Subsequently, I found out from Ernesto Cattel of Costadilà that he was going around telling our growers he was somehow affiliated with Louis/Dressner. Then I found the emails sent to our growers. Another prominent "natural wine"importer (who works nationally and is based in New York like us) told me that all his growers had systematically received contact from the guy with offers to work with him in the California import market as their distributor.
It's not that we do not like competition, as this guy retorted when I told him to back off. In fact (as you shall see later) we in fact DO like competition and a good deal of our competitors. More good wine, more good winemakers getting represented in the market = everybody wins. But we don't like laziness, unoriginality, disrespect and deceit. Build a unique, personal portfolio.
Okay, if you are still with me, here's where the camel's back snaps. Another one of these new Selectors of California (whose "portfolio" is almost all wines already discovered and brought directly into the US by Chambers Street Wines in NYC and national importer Zev Rovine) convinced one of our producers, despite our strong arguments against it, to sell to them in California. There are really several sides to this story: between us, the domaine and the New California Selector it's a total Rashomon. In any event, the domaine went ahead and shipped wine to the New California Selector. We had many back and forths with the producer (whom we consider a long time friend) explaining why it was not in her best interest to go forward with this decision, but she insisted and we acquiesced for the good of her business. Still, the whole thing left a bad taste, which we hope to clear with the producer face-to-face the next time we see her.
In the meantime, the wine for California is arriving and it turns out the New California Selector has not done any of the required paperwork that the US government and customs require for entry of alcoholic beverages, putting him at risk for delayed container entry and the hefty charges that go with that. First he asks an old friend of mine in San Francisco to beg the favor from me in giving them permission to use our paperwork (which takes hours of work on our end) for their goods, without the chutzpah to contact me himself. That was a no go. He then contacted me by email with apologies for being new and not understanding what was needed to be done; and a vague reference that perhaps he was breaking some "importer orthodoxy". Okay, now we are getting into a left-handed swipe at a gentleperson's code of conduct being somehow wrapped in an impregnable secret Masonic code to which only a chosen few have access.
To me this is the height of self-serving disrespect and a turn of the tables, a rationalization for laziness and lack of preparation or due diligence, a marked inability to follow any rules, (no matter how petty, we are in a regulated industry and you cannot make the rules go away by just ignoring them) and a marked disrespect for the work it actually does take to represent a group of first rate wine estates.
On a much happier note, last Sunday Louis/Dressner got together with Zev Rovine, Selection Massale, Fifi and PM Spirits to do a tasting together under the same roof. The energy was incredible, the crowd was great and the festivities went well into the night. Nothing was poached, no one insulted or undermined their competition: it was truly a moment of working together towards the same goals and ideals. There is room in this world for everybody to get along, play nicely and act with responsibility, decorum and respect. We're just not sure why it's so difficult for some people to understand that.
Do your work, Y-O-U-R W-O-R-K, don't use someone else's. It's fundamental.
"Drinking like Fish: The Rise of Glou-Glou in Europe and Beyond" by Eddie Wrinkerman
"We should drink more and speak less!" -Arianna Occhipinti
It's the phenomenon that's sweeping the nation. People are drinking large quantities of delicious wine and they can't stop. Back in early November, I'd reported on the Tennessean Beaujolais Craze, but it's happening everywhere: New York, California, Michigan, Wisconsin…
"It's just so good!" exclaims Jody Witchencron, a Kalamazoo, Michigan native. "Every sip makes me want another!"
"It's such a sheer pleasure to drink that I don't have time to read how many points anyone gave it!" mused Don Hickleberry of Houston, Texas.
"It's more than just drinking. It's a lifestyle." said some bearded hipster.
All across the nation, it seems that a new generation of wine consumers are quickly taking rise. These are men and women who actually enjoy drinking wine because it tastes good, because it pairs well with food, because they can drink a lot of it and not be completely hungover the next morning.
Glou-Glou, the evocative term on everyone's tongue, is simply the culmination of these qualities in wine. Roughly translated, Glou-Glou means "glug-glug", the sound your throat makes while rapidly consuming a liquid beverage. The implication, of course, is that the wine is so good that one cannot help but drinking it. In France, they are referred to as Vin de Soif, or wines of thirst. More often than not, these wines tend to be lighter in alcohol, tannins (for reds) and body, but still have pronounced acidity, minerality and a real sense of terroir. Heavy , and especially new oak, are arguably deal breakers.
The geographical origins of the term are still somewhat unclear, but expert Gulpologists like Thierry Puzelat and Olivier Lemasson invariably trace it back to wines of the Beaujolais:
"I visit Ville-Morgon every year the way some go to Lourdes; there aren't any miracles, but there's certainly joy for me!"- Thierry Puzelat
"I love the Beaujolais. My formative years in winemaking were at Marcel Lapierre's, and this whole vin de soif thing stems from the Beaujolais style. Even though his Morgon was very complex, beautiful wine, it was also very easy to drink!"- Olivier Lemasson
By most accounts, the Loire has comfortably become the second Glou-Glou capitol of France, where cooler northern climates produce light, crisp and easy wines that are incredibly versatile with food but are just as easy to enjoy on their own.
"...the wines that really made me start to believe I could make wine in this style were Thierry Puzelat's. Marcel (Lapierre)'s wines were the spark, but he lived 450 kilometers away from me and was working with very different terroirs; having a neighbor pull it off right next door was the inspiration and motivation to follow in his footsteps."-Hervé Villemade, based out of Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny.
This light, fruity style has spread like wildfire in the natural winemaking world, and it is now possible to find whole-cluster, semi carbonic -aka "Beaujolais Style"- , or even fully carbonic macerated wines from all over the world. In many ways, carbonic maceration has come to define the Glou-Glou style, but many feel that fixating on how wine should taste or is made would be missing the larger point. A recent excerpt from Stefano Belloti's interview on the recently relaunched louisdressner.com website sums up what many believe the movement to be about:
"The vocation of my vines has always been, in my mind, to make wines that can be aged for a long time. Serious wine...
So I decided, instead of making serious wine, I just wanted to make wine. Wine to drink. I make a red and a white. It worked out really well because instead of making wines that you have to intellectualize, I've also produced ones that just win you over, a wine you don't think about, that you take great pleasure in drinking. You don't need to worry what about the region or the varietal or the nose or whatever. When you do this you are intellectualizing wine, and wine doesn't give a shit about being intellectual. So it's "Simply" red or white: you bring them to the table and you don't think about it, you just drink it. That's it."
Some worry that by broadening the term to any wine that is easy to drink, you run the risk of the consumer confusing "easy to drink" with "simple" or "one dimensional". Gulpologist Lemasson elaborates:
"When I say vin de soif, I'm not claiming these wines are simple; they can be complex in their own right. What I mean by that is they are easy to drink on their own."
Though the movement is still relatively young, one thing is certain: people are celebrating life by drinking good wine and eating good food with good people. Bottoms up!
"Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée" by Joe Dressner
There was one theme that came up at every vigneron I visited this past summer.
L' Agrément is literally the granting of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée to a wine. Every year, in every region, there is a process by which the producers of each AOC judge the work of their peers and decide if it merits the name of the AOC. The origins of this system date back centuries in spirit, although legally it was formulated in the 1930s. The idea was that system defends the consumer -- it guarantees that the wine bought by the consumer actually comes from the region, village or vineyard on the label. It also guarantees that the wine is not flawed and most importantly that the wine is typique.
Typique means literally that the wine is typical. Typical in the sense that the wine expresses a terroir and typical in the sense that it conforms to the norms of the appellation. What exactly defines normative is the gray area that is being discussed all over France. Because, essentially, the aromatic and taste norms are being defined all over France by the majority in each AOC.
And here is where we get into a dangerous zone, the tyranny of the majority. If the bulk of Touraine's Sauvignons Blancs are overcropped, lean, acidic and bitter, then something richer and more interesting is automatically atypical and outside the norms of the AOC.
French vignerons tend to be a conservative bunch and intolerant of marginal characters. They also tend to be a close-knit and jealous lot. The Didier Dagueneaus who get four to five times the price of their neighbors by producing a wine that is perceived by the majority to be eccentric and made by eccentric viticultural and oenological practices quickly find that some of their wines are not accepted as typique and are declassified by the majority into Vins de Table. Same for Eloi Durbach, Jean Thévenet and so many more well-known vignerons.
Of course, these are the celebrities. Below them are a movement of vignerons who are working hard in their vineyards, who are harvesting by hand, producing low yields, working with wild yeasts, not concentrating, not enzyming and not spoofulating. They are simply making real wines, that in a better world would be the models for their terroir. Instead they have become pariahs.
Their wines are often eliminated from the AOC, or grudgingly accepted after several appeals, because, in the current context of mediocrity, they are aberrant.
Unfortunately for these vignerons, those who do not have the reputations of a Durbach or Dagueneau, a declassification into Table Wine or Vin de Pays can often have disastrous financial results. When Jean-Paul Brun is told that his beautiful Beaujolais Rouges are atypique and have to be declassified into table wine -- without vintage, without the name of the grape variety, without the name of the estate (restrictions that are obligatory for Table Wine) -- which of his customers are going to buy the wine?
The French vineyards have grown exponentially since the war and various AOCs have doubled, tripled or quadrupled in size. Many of them use high-producing clonal selections and mechanical agricultural work that, by definition, make a different product than the "mavericks" who are still making real wine based on the raw materials that defined that terroir in the first place. As sales go bad all over France, the tendency is for the majority to get even more intolerant and to apply more pressure to the marginals.
Perhaps the best thing would be to go the route of Italian wines and start declaring wines as Table Wines as an alternative to the AOC system. Because it is apparent that it is the producer and not the AOC that makes the difference. A Vouvray from B&G and a Vouvray from Domaine Huet are both from the same AOC but the regional indicator tells us nothing about the actual quality in the bottle.
As an American, it always amazes me that any real estate mogul can hire a consultant, buy grapes, start a winery in California and fetch $50.00 a bottle. But a Muscadet is a Muscadet is a Muscadet and no matter how good the work is, no matter how good the wine, a Muscadet ought to cost under $10.00. Maybe a top cuvée can go for $12.00. And, if you lose the AOC Muscadet because the wine is judged as being too rich, you are in VDP which has to cost $5.99 retail. Or less.
Each AOC in France has a range of acceptable prices that goes with the range of acceptable flavors and aromatics. Whether it be Gevrey-Chambertin Village or Cairanne. Occasionally, there is the Dagueneau and other wine celebrities who can transcend the built-in barriers. Sometimes, a rave review from Robert Parker or The Wine Spectator can also aid a producer to transcend their regional limits. But, on the whole, the wine trade and wine public are delighted to see normative price restraints hold sway. Even though the real estate mogul in California can get $50.00 a bottle for his first effort.
This sounds like a good system. Everybody is supposed to like lower prices and lower prices are to the advantage of the consumer. The problem is that costs are not equal -- the maverick vigneron who works at low yields and takes every expense to ensure the best possible grapes come into his cuverie and the best possible wine goes into the bottle has another level of expense than the neighbor who machine harvests and uses industrial winemaking techniques. There are no migrant laborers in France and labor is extremely expensive. Somewhere along the line, there has to be a financial incentive for vignerons to work harder and better.
In the current market, the vigneron who works well is harassed by his peers in the AOC and then forced to sell his wine at about the same prices as his neighbors who sell average, mediocre or horrible wine. Isn't it time that we in the wine trade try to motivate the public and motivate our customers to understand that there is a relationship between what the consumer pays and what the consumer gets in the bottle?
In touring around America, I notice that many of the younger people in the trade respect a meritocracy and not an appellation hierarchy. People new to the trade have been trained in California wine, not in French wines, and judge the producer, not the region. If a Côtes-du-Rhône is delicious, then it doesn't matter that it is not going to cost $9.99 retail. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
In France, they are still a long way off. The French drinking public still views their wines through the prism of the AOC and expects a certain fourchette of prices, often beginning at rock bottom. Enormous supermarket chains, selling at low mark-ups, dominate the French wine trade and encourage this tendency.
Let's be reasonable. We have a three tier system here. A wine that costs $9.99 retail usually leaves the vigneron's cellar at $3.00 to $3.50. A producer wants to make $5.00 and everyone in the American trade considers him a thief! So the inclination in the trade is to buy from the cheapest sourcing out there to keep the prices low in the market and to turnover inventory. OK, wine distribution is not a non-profit business and we are looking to make money. But isn't part of our responsibility to explain to our customers and to the public why it is worth paying something extra for good and great wine?
Hopefully, the time will come when the buying public buys a wine for the quality of the wine and not for the perceived reputation of the AOC. Until that time, the abuse of the majority will dominate the vineyards of France and restrict what we are able to get into the hands of consumers. Let's work together to try to turn this situation around.
"Spoof or Die" by Joe Dressner
From a post on joedressner.com originally titled A Christmas Spooftide Carol!
Spoofulation is a form of manipulation which takes wine away from nature and into the technological world of fake extraction, fake aromatics, fake flavors, fake density, fake acidity, fake tannin levels, fake color and fake sugar levels.
Basically, fake wines.
Unfortunately, much of the debate in the wine world is over "new world" vs "old world" wines, pitting "traditionalists" against "innovators." This is simply not a productive juxtaposition as the bulk of wine in the old world which aspires to go beyond plonk, much as in the new world, is being made for marketers rather than wine lovers. We're stuck in a vicious cycle where new consumers expect wine to be spoofed, buy spoof and spoof dominates what is available. Oenologists, consultants and winemakers, who are running businesses after all, have no choice but to spoofulate or they go out of business.
Spoof or die.
Wine is becoming less a natural product and more a manufactured beverage. McSpoof. This is as true in Burgundy as it is in Oregon as it is true in Napa as it is true in Australia as it is true in the Priorat.
Those who enjoy spoof often create a straw man argument that anti-spoofers are intellectuals who don't enjoy fruit driven and hedonistic wines. Whenever I taste these "fruit driven, hedonistic" wines that I read about in the wine press, I always have to wonder which fruits people have in mind. Certainly, nothing that grows in nature, nothing that comes from the ground. Most of these fruit bombs taste more like cherry cough syrup than any fruit I've put in my mouth. I never find it hedonistic to drink wines made in this style, a style that reminds me of the type of flavored medications my mother used to make me take when I was a child with assurances that "its good for you." Snapple based on fermented grapes is not my notion of wine hedonism.
Hedonism is about pleasure and what makes wine pleasurable and fabulous for me is when there is the balance, minerality, the fruit, the acidity, the structure, the sense of place and time that makes me want to empty my glass. I find it hedonistic when wine enlarges my senses, rather than when it is molded by someone else for their notion of market utility.
It ain't old world vs. new world. It ain't intellectuals vs. hedonists. It is real wine vs. spoof.
Granted, with some regretable simplification.
So, that's why I blog, to the embarassment of my loved ones and colleagues. Since the press does not have this view of wine, I have been active on my blog and in some of the wine boards for the past five or six years and have tried to talk up and popularize this notion of wine. Blogging and wine boards have given me a forum to present these ideas.
All this being said, I have nothing against people enjoying wine I find anti-hedonistic and anti-nature. I don't stop people in the street and rip the Coca-Cola or Snapples out of their hands. Some of my best friends like manufactured "fruit bombs."
So, honestly, I don't see why the self-proclaimed hedonists are so keen to condemn wines made naturally for another sensibility. I always enjoy looking into the Robert Parker wine board, where you get the impression that Parker is a isolated voice in the wilderness being bludgeoned by powerful British wine critics. For Christ's sake (and this is the Christmas season, after all), the man wields incredible power and wants to present himself as a persecuted crusader. Similarly, many lovers of new world spoof feel they have to lash out at people who like harmonious, natural wines.
Blogging has been a way for me to get my message out there about another style of wine than what the industry, press and trade are pushing. As it turns out, there are quite a number of you out there.
Thanks for all your support and a Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones.
And don't forget our Jewish friends out there.
"A Wine's Personality" by Joe Dressner
There's always a lot of debate about whether a wine reflects a terroir or the intervention of the winemaker. I've been too busy watching the Tour de France the past three weeks to participate in any of these debates. It was a great Tour, a superb Tour, and I will long remember the hard, hot days in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Getting back to wine: the only way to understand the personality of a wine is to get to know the personality who made the wine.
This is a lot of work and requires an investment of time, money and energy. Language skills are also required.
I drank a bottle of Paul Pernot Puligny-Montrachet Folatiéres 1986 for lunch yesterday. With a delicious Charolais veal roast bought from M. Bataillard of Azé.
Paul Pernot has a reputation in Puligny as being a savage who talks to no one and who wants no one to talk to him. He is in his late 60s, looks very much like a peasant who has spent enormous time in sun-drenched vineyards and remains an aloof recluse in his native village. He is also an important landowner, with the largest plot of Folatiéres 1er Cru, and has a formidable collection of motorcycles (he likes to ride Harleys) and antique Mercedes. He looks like an agrarian worker, but in truth he is a rather wealthy peasant.
We've been selling his wines for quite a number of years now. It took us about a year to get an appointment -- at the time he was heavily lauded by The Wine Advocate and simply was not interested. My wife would call and Pernot would refuse an appointment. More or less, he would hang up on her. Finally, Denyse (my wife) called and got Pernot's wife, who was perfectly polite and gave us an appointment.
We arrived, Pernot told us he was busy and only had five minutes, and somehow we managed to hit it off with the guy and he agreed to sell us wine. Pernot was extremely reserved during this encounter, but we walked away with a decent feeling about the guy.
About a year later (maybe in 1991), we came with a New Jersey retailer, the retailer's wife, and our daughter (who was about three years old). Pernot has a grandaughter the same age as our daughter. Our daughter got bored and had a fit on the floor of Pernot's cellar as we were tasting the latest vintage of Bâtard. Quite literaly, she rolled on the floor screaming and crying and demanding that we leave immediately. In perfect French though.
The retailer and his wife were horrified. They had been all nervous to go taste with the mythic Paul Pernot (he was getting 95s in Parker) and to be tasting a range of grandiose Burgundy appellations. Afterward, they told us that they had been horribly embarassed by our daughter's behavior in the middle of serious dégustation. Pernot smiled as we left and told us to come back at the end of August to taste the vintage after it was bottled.
Since then, Pernot always asks us about our daughter and discusses Alyce's fit in his cellar with great fondness. When we visit him, we invariably leave with gifts of old vintages to drink at our home in the Mâconnais.
As years go by, Pernot turns out not only to be friendly with us, but almost gushingly so. The man banters and tells small jokes as we taste, discussing old vintages, Puligny in the old days, and how Burgundy has changed over the decades. We discuss our children, his grandchildren and the future of the wine market. He gives us samples from other vignerons he has met, including a bottle several years ago of Bois de Boursan Châteaneuf-du-Pâpe, a bottle that turned into a phone call to the proprietor, that turned into a visit, that turned into a commercial relationship. Jean-Paul Versino who makes this delicious Châteauneuf aways tells us that Paul Pernot is his image of a vigneron. Versino likes to visit Pernot and often goes up to Puligny with a Belgian customer he shares with Pernot. For Versino, as for Denyse and I, the visits to Paul Pernot are immensely enjoyable, personal and gratifying.
The 1986 Folatiéres I drank today was incredibly fresh, forward, honeyed, rich and with a touch of botrytis. What an example of Chardonnay from a grand terroir! Seventeen years since it was harvested, it was almost painfully expressive and demonstrative. We truly regretted coming to the end of the bottle.