Friday, January 29, 2010

Three days of Organic wine

Three days of wine and wine and wine. Three days of chatting, tasting, sharing, learning. Three days spent meeting importers to the US, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland markets. Three days of discussing, commenting, sniffing, and tasting. Three days of early mornings, late evenings, hopes, excitement, moments of boredom, too much good organic food (a super caterer does the noon-time meals).

I was there with two goals: to help JP sell his wines, particularly to the US market, but of course to anyone who needed me to speak English with them. And, to discover and taste wines from other wineries to build my own portfolio of wineries whose wines I would like to help enter the States.

To that end, as time permitted, I tasted wines of Pic St. Loup (a region I adore, though their wines are a bit pricey for our relatively slow market perhaps -- generally from $20-$35 with the current exchange rate). I also made an interesting connection with a small biodynamic winery in the Loire Valley, with an Alsacian winery that also has holiday rentals on site and the possibility to offer meals, tastings and more for visitors, and a woman-run winery in Perpignan (right by the Pyrennees) with numerous very very interesting wines both blends and single varietals.

Yes, I am moving forward. Best to start slowly and carefully. I've still much to learn about the basics of exporting wines to the US. Paperwork, labelling, Customs' duties, State differences (of which there are more than you can imagine!). But the fun part is getting to know the wines and the persons who make them.

My plan is to have the majority of the wineries I work with be within easy driving distance (relatively) and be willing to work with me on wine tours receiving curious visitors as well as being an agent who can place their wines in the US market. And of course, each time I visit them, I will photograph and write and describe. For what else this blog? A chance to share the discoveries of people, places and more.

When not running about tasting others' wines and presenting myself, I was a diligent assistant pouring and discussing JP's wines, trying to suss out the perfect match with visiting importers. I was pleased to see that my advance work contacting these importers had paid off and most came by to visit and taste our discreet selection of wines.

Our neighbors in all directions had a larger range of offerings than we. In Alsace, no matter the size of the winery, it will make seemingly at least a dozen different wines -- in some cases 500 bottles or fewer per style! And, for those in Languedoc, lacking in many cases a known name or AOC, they have opted to enter the international market with the more easily understood single varietals, using creative labeling, etc., Not quite the critter labels of Australia, but often in that general direction.

We have our two whites, one rosé, and three reds. All are blends, and though there are differences in the labelling, they are minimal: two vin de pays du Gard, three AOC Costières de Nîmes (the three colors) and a red cuvée prestige (the Jardin Secret). The bare minimum.

Behind us was a négociant who had a wide range of wines from many parts of France -- one stop shopping if you will. All organic, all with friendly and attractive labels, and all very inexpensive. One prominent American importer spent most of his time with them. Disappointing for us, the private, personal and small winery, but understandable. Easier to work with a négociant who knows the ropes and has lots of offerings than a small, individual winery. Ah well. Do we really want to be on supermarket shelves?

It's an art knowing into which market you fit. Wine stores are one area, but only the folks in the know will shop there. Organic supermarkets are another -- Wholefoods being the holy grail of course. But no doubt, there is a large potential in any supermarket lucky to be in a state that permits them to sell wine, particularly if you can come into the US in the $10 and under range...
But then do you change your label to adapt to that market? Is your labelling in sync with the product in the bottle and the potential drinker who will buy it?

When we look at the many many possibilities on display at the wine fair, it is both encouraging and destabilizing. Should we update the label? and if so, in which direction? It's great to have wines that will retail in the US at a reasonable rate (likely $10-$12), but we don't want the elegant label to count against them, nor a flashy label to demote them.

Now, home, I've a list of contacts to follow up with -- both for Domaine Cabanis, but also for myself. Price lists, wine descriptions, meetings to envision and plan, visits to their respective wineries where feasible... Exciting...


Zuleme said...

I have a friend with a lot of experience as a "wine guy" in MA. He worked for a place on the Cape and probably knows a lot of people on this side of the pond. If you'd like his email, let me know.

Madeleine Vedel said...

I would love to email with him -- is he still in the business? and in what way? selling? restaurant? importing?

Gillian said...

If you can get the British TV Channel 4OD (this is their online TV the OD stands for On Demand), they have a very interesting documentary Chateau Monty about an English guy who, as a neophyte set up a small biodynamic winery near Perpignan and made excellent wine in his first year (last Year). Biodynamic wine is grown according to the planetary energies etc. Well worth a watch!