French wine lovers buy their wines in a different way to British wine lovers and probably Americans too. For a start, with a vastly improved motorway network in France in less than four hours Parisians can reach Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux or the Loire Valley, so it’s hardly surprising that they travel to wine regions to buy direct from the growers. However, that’s usually a once a year trip, perhaps linked with a holiday, so often they need to stock up in-between times, especially in the months leading up to Christmas.
In the past decade, what the French call ‘Salons des Vins’ have become a hugely popular way of choosing and buying wine in France. They range from small town affairs with just 30 producers to huge ones with possibly the largest and best known ones being organized by the Vignerons Indépendents de France who have salons des vins in the cities of Lyon, Lille, Rennes, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Paris once or twice a year. Several hundred independent wine producers from every wine region in France converge and each has their own stand, with the producers in a random order (i.e. not arranged by region). There’s actually a waiting list for most of these fairs and several producers will tell you how important they are for direct-to-consumer sales.
In Lyon at the end of last month, the Salon ran from Thursday afternoon through to Monday. In order to catch up with some Jura and Savoie producers (there were 4 Savoie and 12 Jura present) I chose to visit on the Monday, thinking it would be mainly trade visitors present, in particular working restaurant sommeliers, whose restaurants are closed on Mondays. However, there were wine buyers too – in the approach to the exhibition hall, I quickly realized I was in the right area as people were wheeling little trolleys along the pavements, some already stacked with wine boxes despite the fair having been open for less than an hour. Trolleys are an important feature of the big wine fairs – if you don’t have one you arrive to find a prominent stand selling them near the entrance.
As well as tasting wines, I’d just been invited to be involved with the French Winegrowers Fair in London, so I wanted to talk to a few producers who were going to the London fair and to watch visitor behaviour in Lyon. Some visitors make a beeline to their favourite vigneron, taste a couple of their range, buy the wines, load them onto their trolley before moving onto the next one on their list. Others use the fair to discover a new producer that they might have read about in an article or on a blog and use the show as a way of discovering new wines to buy. The great thing with these shows is that nearly always the owner or one or more of the family is present, serving and introducing the wines. They are more than happy to explain a little about their domaine and take you through each of their wines with full winemaking and vineyard details, even if there is a crowd waiting to taste and buy their wines. Really it’s a little like tasting and talking cheese with the cheesemakers at a Farmers’ market.
To see the French growers and their customers in action, you can visit the Paris Vignerons Indépendent show which runs from 27 November – 1 December 2008 at the Porte de Versaille (entry fee of 6 Euros).
However, if you are in or close to London the week before check out the very first French Winegrowers Fair at the Barbican from 21 – 23 November from 10am to 7pm each day – you can combine it with a visit to the amazing Robert Capa ‘This is War!’ photo exhibition (rather appropriate as I’m writing this on 11th November). There will be over 100 winegrowers present whose wines are not usually available in the UK and most are of a very high caliber. Each grower will each have a range of about five wines to taste and buy with prices that are the same as buying from the producer plus, of course, British Excise Duty. The wine growers I’ve spoken with who are exhibiting at London are offering some great value wines, particularly in the range of £6 – £12 a bottle. If you don’t want to drive to the Barbican or to wheel your trolley (yes, you will be able to buy one!) on the tube, then a delivery service will be available too. There is an entry price to the show of £20 however this is reduced to just £10 providing you download and print the voucher from their website. The Friday morning session is reserved for wine trade and press who will be admitted free on presentation of their business or press cards.
SPECIAL OFFERS! Wine Travel Guides has 2 free tickets to post to anyone in the UK, please contact me via the website by Monday 17th November – first come, first served. We will have a stand at the show where Brett and I will be on-hand to show you how the website works and what’s on offer. There will be a really special show offer for subscriptions and for Gift subscriptions, so please do come along and say hello – and tell all your friends and colleagues. If you are reading this from far away, then don’t forget, readers to this blog can use the special discount code D1BLG08 for a 20% discount off subscriptions.