The SOMM Journal

June / July 2015

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12 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2015 { the wine biz } IT CAME FROM TEN HECTARES OF Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes planted in the Pyrenean foothills. It is now on your painstakingly curated wine list in a major American metropolitan area. But how did it get there? More intriguingly, if it is the granule that made it through multiple passes of a filter, what were the "failures" like? There may be a dozen or more wines out there that did not make it from a Jurançon ferme to the U.S. Here, I examine that supply chain. How wine gets from farmer to distributor. We will discover that the days when a Kermit Lynch or Bobby Kacher could trek to remote parts of Europe and uncover hidden gems are not over by a long shot. Indeed, it is just the method of concealment that has changed, from obscure siting to steganog - raphy. The world is awash with better wine than mankind has ever made before, and better wine than makes the leap to U.S. wine lists is being consigned to 3.5 euro shelves in Europe. I will have a modest sug - gestion as to how sommeliers themselves can alleviate this travesty—improving their lists and the customer experience at the same time, while helping worthy producers. I am at the World Wine Meetings in Chicago, a complex exercise in speed dat - ing between importers from the Americas and suppliers from Europe, South America and Africa (with 95% from France, Italy and Spain). Importers (buyers) mostly come from the U.S., although I have run into a couple of Canadians wondering whether Chicago is unseasonably warm (it is 38 degrees in the latter half of April). Each importer is set up with 23 to 30 40-min - ute "interviews" over three days with a subset of the 180 producers chosen by the organizers based on mutual interest. Each supplier has its own bordello set up in one of the hotel suites in which they offer tastes of their wine in a one-on-one envi - ronment. The dating ritual is designed to step from this elaborate "pourplay" to full consummation (of a commercial purchase contract) with minimal outside intrusion. The organizers tout its superiority over the conventional trade conference where the two sides make contact as if by Brownian motion and then discuss deals across tables amid lines of competitors. Later that afternoon I am in the suite of Domaine de la Grenaudière with owner/ winemaker Jean-Luc Ollivier and Sales Director Christophe Barcat. On the buyer's side is Joe Jensen, Partner in Compass Wines and Spirits. Jean-Luc's family has made wine from their vineyards in Muscadet Sèvre et Maine for seven generations. I taste through the line of refined and cultivated Melon de Bourgogne–based offerings, all made sur lie, with unbroken satisfaction. The high point is going to be the 2010 Clisson (a new small AOP) until Joe persuades Jean-Luc to pull out the 1999 Cuvée Charbonniére. I am awed. Joe says that a great strength of this category is that sommeliers love it. He also notes that it requires careful placement to sell successfully. His stores want wines that come in and fly out the doors the same day. He mentions two high-end supermar - kets (one with a national footprint) that he thinks would go for it. The reason Joe knew about the 1999 wine is that he met this producer last year. They did not do any business at that time but got to know each other. From the moment he comes in, the convivial atmosphere is palpable. He suggests he has done some advance work (finding a buyer) and may be able to do business this year. Joe explains to me that a two-year dating process is normal with wine importation. "This is relationship sell - ing," he explains, "and the French always give you a firm price when you ask." Other countries, it seems, are more given to "it may be this" and "now it is that." Christophe says the long dating process works for pro - ducers too. They want to build a long-term relationship, "not just a transaction," he says. On the last day of the meetings I see Joe as I prepare to leave. Did you reach an agree- ment with Domaine de la Grenaudière I ask? He nods and a big smile comes over his face. If you are a practicing sommelier or bev- erage director, you may by now be feeling that when you peruse the list of selections available through distribution you are star - ing through the keyhole at an elephant. What you want is get into the selection process earlier. Exactly what you can do depends on your account size and the state law under which you operate, but you may be able to tag along with your friendly distributor at the next World Wine Market and have them order on your behalf. Work on it now for next year in Chicago or jump ahead for the (less U.S.-centric) fall meetings in Singapore. More information at How Did That Wine Get on My List? WORLD WINE MEETINGS FOSTER ROMANCE BETWEEN SUPPLIERS AND BUYERS by Andrew Chalk PHOTOS: DARRIN BALLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

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