As I’m trying to focus more on wine, I feel obligated to devote a post to my Vinexpo experience. As I’m tired, working, it’s August, hot as hell, and I’m typing away outside today as there’s no room inside at the cafe I stopped at because I could walk no longer – this is difficult. But I’m going for it because sooner is better than later (and it’s been – my god – over a month since the event). Without further ado, I give you…
Overview: Founded in 1981 by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bordeaux, the Vinexpo has emerged over the years as the great meeting place for global operators of wines and spirits. The expo takes place every other year in Bordeaux at the fairgrounds. It takes place during one week in June every odd year and welcomes some 50,000 visitors, and hosts 2400 exhibitors from 47 countries. The main exhibitors are French and Italian. In 2011, one out of three non-French exhibitor was from Asia, and recorded 48,122 visitors from 148 countries, up 3.22% compared to 2009.
I was honored with an invitation to come and work at the expo by the Golan Heights Winery. They have been exhibiting at Vinexpo for at least 20 years, as far as I know, the only winery – at least this year – from Israel. This year, we also brought wines from our daughter winery, The Galil Mountain Winery. I speak French fairly fluently (I lived in Paris as a child, grew up in a loosely tri-lingual household, and continued my studies through high school and university – where I focused heavily on French literature), but needless to say, my wine vocabulary was lacking. I spent the two months before attempting to brush up – listening to French news radio on the internet, and I found some Skype-pals, for lack of a better term, through a free service that pairs up people wanting to improve their foreign language speaking skills through an exchange with native speakers, online. A fantastic idea. I also created lists of wine vocabulary, watched wine-making videos on YouTube, and I did some research on wine websites and wine regions in France, simply to read about these topics in French. It all helped. I was a bit overzealous in my preparation and overly nervous about my ability to perform, but I think I did well. The first day I felt I was a bit shaky – but after a glass or two of wine and hours on end of speaking just French, it came very easily. I was there to pour wine, explain about our wines in detail, and introduce whoever was interested to what Israeli wines really are. A great fun very professional exhibition. I met wonderful people, and I learned a lot, too.
Golan: Yarden Gamla Brut 2005; Yarden Gewurtztraminer 2010; Yarden Chardonnay Odem Organ Vineyard 2009; Yarden Syrah 2006; Yarden Merlot 2007; Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2007; and Yarden Heights Wine 2009. We also brought a hodge-podge selection of 2-3 bottles of various other wines to share with journalists, specialists, and international distributors, if the moment arose – from the Golan range, through Gamla, and a few special single vineyards and top limited-edition wines like the Rom and Katzrin.
Galil: Sauvignon Blanc 2010; Viognier 2010; Avivim 2009; Pinot Noir 2009; Meron 2007/2008; Yiron 2007. There were also some random bottles opened on occasion, if memory serves, perhaps some of the younger reds.
As the only French speaker, I found myself at the stand so much that I didn’t see much of the rest of the expo. Frankly, that was OK by me. Victor, the head winemaker, worked extremely hard, too, as well as some of the others, and when you get into a rhythm, adrenaline kicks in, and it’s extremely fun work. A real team effort. We had “Wine ID Cards,” as we call them, with all the stats on the company, the numbers, and the geography, complete with map, as we used as a starting point to explain about the location of the vineyards and the specific terroir. What I found surprising was the people were incredibly open-minded. I think that a number of them simply came out of curiosity, the novelty of an Israeli winery, but the fact that we’ve been winning very important awards, especially as of late went a long way, too. People loved our wines. The most “negative” comment I got was that it was very different than what they make in France. Perhaps they were being polite. However, the rave reviews some people offered up, who came back for seconds, who finished their glasses instead of using the spittoons, were not uncommon, and it was energizing. I was so happy to be there. Honestly, I was so proud to be there. And to be spouting off facts, figures, agricultural specifics, aging techniques, standing right next to the winemakers – hopefully getting it all right (I certainly prepped enough) – was something else. I feel I proved something to myself. I’ve come very far in just two+ years in the trade. I’m actually able to teach things, and in some ways also to inspire. I love these wines, and I love the people I get to work with even more.
And enough drippy drippy sap I’m spouting. Of the OTHER world wines I got to taste:
- Lebanese wines: SO different from Israeli wines, and such a small distance away, it’s surprising (almost all of the wines are made in the Beqaa Valley). I found them sharper somehow. Very different layering. A lot of the wine wasn’t amazing, I have to admit, as younger wines always are. However, among the young wines, there was a lot of creativity – fresh and bright. The vines in Lebanon are older than ours, at least some of them. Because Lebanon is not a dominantly Muslim country, there have always been Christians there – I met a lot of people who had vines that were decades and decades old. A big positive factor in the quality of the grapes. Of course, there are also a lot of new ventures. I met French winemakers who were hired by Lebanese and Syrian businessmen who wanted to build up wineries as an investment in recent years. The wines I tasted that I remembered most were from Chateau Ksara and Château Kefraya.
- Japanese wine: no, I’m not talking sake. I’m talking real true blue wine from grapes of the authentic Vitis vinifera. They don’t yet have a website, the wine is in such limited production, and for the life on me I cannot remember the name. Crazy. I will find out, though, as I know some people who know some people and I will update soon. Perhaps I’ll write a post on it. What I remember is this: it was distinctive as hell. I don’t know whether I loved it or hated it. Not kidding. There were two wines, one younger, one more aged – premiere, both white, very fresh and sharp. What was distinctive first was the smell. It was like stinky bleu cheese and fresh green melon. Weird. I mean so weird, I felt like my facial expression might have insulted the women representing the winery. They served sushi with it. The taste was so contrary to the smell, that was the next oddity. Very floral and green. They were saying that the specific grape varietal was native to Japan and had been evident in records for over 1,000 years. How this fruit came to Japan that long ago is a mystery. On the wings of a bird? On a rare random trade ship? Because it is the real deal species. Not a different fruit. I will find the name, promise.
- Chablis: I tasted the whole lineup of wines from the Durup family’s winery. It’s good solid decent Chablis. I liked the Chablis 1er cru Vau de Vey very much, although I must say that their Petit Chablis was just as lovely and drinkable. For people who want a fun summery wine, and aren’t wanting to break the bank, it’s a great choice.
- Sicilian wines: I tasted a big-commercial-winery’s wine from Sicily two years ago and was blown away. Since then I’ve kept my eyes open for Sicilian wines in Israel. This wine was so rich and deeply fragrant, reminiscent of cassis (black current), that I was kind of in heaven. Cassis reminds me of France and England and childhood and fruits from other-parts-of-the-world, not the standard everyday variety. Needless to say, there aren’t many Sicilian wines available in Israel. I got a chance to taste many many Sicilian wines at the expo. In short, there are volcanic regions on the island, and surprisingly enough, non-volcanic regions, too. The wines are dramatically different. The dominant local varietals are Nero D’Avola (red) and Inzolia (white). I was pleasantly surprised by the whites, as I hadn’t tasted them before. Because of the sort of “transparency” of flavor inherent in white wines (for even the beginner, it’s easier to detect differences between white varietals than red ones, at least in my opinion, and they are easier on the nose, if that makes any sense) – I felt I was tasting something so new yet so ancient. I don’t have my notes in front of me, unfortunately, but maybe I’ll do a separate post on it, too.
- Burgundy: Tasted some, people were pretentious, the wines weren’t at the correct temperatures, by a long shot , and I didn’t have a good time. I moved on quickly. So I can say I drank a glass of grand cru. OK. My notes are elsewhere, and that’s OK by me.
- Bordeaux: Besides the two stands I stopped at, we drank Bordeaux wines all week at dinner. There is a reason that these are the kings of world wines. Even the youngest wines are so distinctive of this region. The layers and complexity are fascinating and at the end of the day, delicious. At one of the stands, a young man took me through a very interesting tasting. I got to taste, albeit two simple wines, ones that were made a few meters from each other, from the same vintage, made in the same method, by the same winemaker. And the differences were dramatic. An exceptional lesson on terroir, for sure!